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Gratitude and Heart Health

I recently read an article that I wanted to post about here. The article was titled The Role of Gratitude in Spiritual Well-being in Asymptomatic Heart Failure Patients. I don't think that you need to have an heart health issues to find this article fascinating. In the article, Dr. Paul J. Mills, Ph.D. discusses the beneficial effects of having a gratitude practice on overall wellbeing and heart health. Currently, heart disease is the number one leading cause of death in the United States, so looking into alternative ways to improve cardiovascular health is imperative. In this study, Dr. Mills recruited 186 men and women with Stage B Heart Failure (HF). Stage B HF is characterized by asymptomatic heart failure. In other words, the person has structural damage to their heart and is at high risk for developing symptoms of heart disease. The crux of the study was to find out the effects gratitude and spiritual wellbeing has on sleep, mood, fatigue, cardiac-specific self-efficacy, and inflammation. Prior to the study, Dr. Mills hypothesized that gratitude would have a beneficial outcome on these markers; however, he wished to rule out the possibility of correlation not causation, i.e. proving that gratitude makes people sleep better, not that sleeping better makes people more grateful. In order to do this, Dr. Mills and his team divided the participants into two groups. The first group continued treatment as usual with no other interventions. The second group was asked to write a journal about gratitude almost everyday for 8 weeks. The study found that the patients who journaled displayed a better mood and sleep, more self-efficacy, and lower fatigue and inflammation. Additionally, gratitude also mediated the beneficial effects of spirituality on mood and sleep.

I think this study is fascinating and exciting for many reasons; however, I would like to focus on its connection to Chinese Medical theory for a moment. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the ways that we discuss organs do not always correlated to our physical organs. In TCM, our organs encompass emotions, smells, seasons, times of day, etc. While there can be a similarities between the two, when a TCM practitioner says "you have deficient Heart Qi," that most likely has nothing to do with the actual health of your phsical heart. Nevertheless, acupuncture medical theory is often eerily accurate, and this is something that I would like to highlight here. The emotion of the Heart is joy, and on the flipside, anxiety. Personally, I often associate the feelings of joy and gratitude. When we feel joyful, just as when we are grateful, we exist in the moment and are happy about something in our lives. While you may point out some differences between the two emotions, I would argue that both emotions open us up in a positive way to the world around us. We foster a healthy Heart in TCM by allowing ourselves to feel joy and do the things that we love.

Additionally, in TCM with associate a restful night's sleep with the Shen's ability to settle in the Heart. The Shen is our thinking mind, our consciousness. At the end of the day, the Shen will move from the head into the Heart, where it will rest and recover until the we wake in the morning. This allows us to turn off and reset. In some cases, though, our Heart will not take in the Shen (maybe we are feeling too anxious to fully settled), and then the Shen cannot find a place to rest. This cycle leads to sleeplessness and an unsettled mind. I find it so interesting that Dr. Mills found a correlation between gratitude and improved sleep because these are the same concepts we discuss in TCM!

If you'd like to know more, please do not hesitate to reach out!


Mills, P. J., Redwine, L., Wilson, K., Pung, M. A., Chinh, K., Greenberg, B. H., Lunde, O., Maisel, A., Raisinghani, A., Wood, A., & Chopra, D. (2015). The role of gratitude in spiritual well-being in asymptomatic heart failure patients. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 2(1), 5–17.

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