University of Michigan study: Being grateful could mean improved health

Study based on cell phone data

A woman holds up a piece of paper with a smile drawing on it. (Pexels)

ANN ARBOR – Sure, being grateful feels good but it may also have implications for your physical and mental health, according to researchers at the University of Michigan and University of California, San Francisco.

A new study monitored cell phone data among users in the U.S., Australia, Hong Kong and India to track how gratefulness affected individuals’ wellbeing.

Using a the cell phone app MyBPLab, researchers were able to measure blood pressure and heart rates with embedded sensors of more than 4,800 participants. They found that people who were more grateful had both lower heart rates and blood pressure and had increased feelings of appreciation toward other people.

The research team also found that optimism also improved physical and mental health, including more positive reflections and expectations and better sleep quality.

In the past, studies on optimism and gratitude typically involved brain scans or laboratory visits to collect data.

In this study, participants wore an arm cuff which the user calibrated sensor from their phone against in order to detect changes in blood pressure using optic sensors.

From March 15, 2019 to Dec. 8, 2020, participants tracked health behaviors like exercise, daily expectations and sleep, stress levels and thoughts three times daily. They also rated 12 items thought processes, such as “In uncertain times, I usually expect the best” and “I have so much in life to be thankful for.”

According to the study’s findings, gratitude helped people emphasize the positive aspects each day, while optimism decreased the negative aspects each day.

“Gratitude also orients people toward others and the benefits they have bestowed to them, whereas optimism may orient people to themselves as they focus on their own specific future,” the study’s co-author and assistant professor in U-M’s Department of Psychology, Amie Gordon, said in a release.

Additionally, optimism helped predict stress frequency and intensity and sleep quality better than gratitude.

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.