In October of 1621, what is commonly referred to as the first “Thanksgiving” was celebrated as a way for the pilgrims to give thanks for their first harvest in the New World. Little did the 53 pilgrims and 90 Native Americans present know that in the very act of gratitude, by giving thanks for the bounty they had harvested and the friendships they created, they were boosting their immune system. How do we know this?

Last winter at our Advanced Workshop in Tacoma Washington, we performed a study on gratitude whereby we took 120 people and measured their cortisol and IgA levels at the start and conclusion of the workshop.

Cortisol is a stress hormone, and when we are constantly on high alert or living under the gun of the fight or flight response, we mobilize an enormous amount of the body’s energy for some threat in our lives—real or imagined—and it causes our immune system to lower. In other words, if we are utilizing all the body’s resources for some threat in our outer world in order to defend ourselves from a perceived danger, there is little energy in our inner world for growth, repair, and internal defense. Thus, the lower our immune system, the more susceptible we are to sickness and disease.

As cortisol levels go up, a chemical called IgA goes down. This isn’t good because IgA is a protein, one of the strongest building blocks of life. IgA is responsible for the healthy function of our body’s supreme internal defense system called the immune system. It’s constantly fighting a barrage of bacteria, viruses, and organisms that invade and/or are already living within the body’s internal environment. Bottom line: IgA is better than any flu shot or immune system booster you could possibly take—and it’s totally natural.

During the course of our four-day workshop, we asked our 120 study participants to move into an elevated emotional state such as love, joy, or gratitude for nine to ten minutes, three times a day, to determine if we could do the reverse. If we could elevate our emotional states, could we raise our immune system and reduce stress hormones like cortisol? We discovered at the conclusion of the event that the cortisol levels of our participants dropped by three standard deviations, and their IgA levels shot up on average from 52.5 to 86. These are significant, measureable changes.

What this tells us is that we don’t need a pharmacy or an exogenous substance to heal us—we have the power from within to upregulate the genes that make IgA. Something as simple as moving into an elevated state of joy, love, or gratitude for five to ten minutes a day can produce significant epigenetic changes in our health and bodies.

So as you give thanks for all your blessings throughout this holiday season, and feel those elevated emotions in a festive spirit, you should know that in the act of gratitude, at the very least you are improving your health. However, if the bounty of gratitude and joy of the holiday season becomes infectious to those around you, you might just be healing others. And just like an infection spreads amongst a community to create sickness, I believe that health and wellness are just as infectious. Spread that around.