Did you know that gratitude can make you happier? Neuroscientists have looked into gratitude. They’ve seen that gratitude practices in your life have notable health benefits. It improves brain health, stress reduction, and the management of depression and anxiety.
When we give thanks, we not only rewire our brains; we also uplift our spirits and the spirits of others. When it comes to personal well-being and relational growth? Gratitude is a game changer.
GRATITUDE CHANGES THE BRAIN
The practice of gratitude increases activity in the medial prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is associated with learning and decision-making.1 People with daily gratitude habits are likelier to experience long-term improved mental health. These gratitude habits can be a verbal expression, written notes, and journaling,
Science Direct also found gratitude a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those who use gratitude exercises are more likely to express gratitude going forward. They also experience a “significantly greater neural modulation by gratitude in the medial prefrontal cortex three months later.”2
The Journal of Positive Psychology had researchers examine connections between health and gratitude. They did this in over 50 studies. They showed gratitude is associated with high levels of emotional well-being. It is also associated with social well-being and positive emotional states. These positive emotions include life satisfaction and happiness.3
In a 2006 study4 published on PubMed, it’s reported that:
Dispositional gratitude predicted greater daily positive affect, percentage of pleasant days over the assessment period, daily intrinsically motivating activity, and daily self-esteem over and above effects attributable to PTSD severity and dispositional negative and positive affect in the PTSD group but not the non-PTSD group. Daily gratitude was uniquely associated with each dimension of daily well-being in both groups.
The Science of Gratitude
The limbic system is part of the brain. It handles emotional and behavioral experiences. The limbic system is comprised of five parts. These are the thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus, and cingulate gyrus. The hippocampus and amygdala regulate emotions, memory, and bodily functioning. Studies have shown these sites are activated with feelings of gratitude.
Another study examined the effects of gratitude on neural network functional connectivity. It concluded the following:
Expressing gratitude is known to promote positive mindsets and reduce stress levels. Gratitude is an important component of mental healthiness throughout life, and it contributes to mental well-being. Gratitude has been associated with a lower risk for psychiatric disorders, higher life satisfaction, and wisdom. More specifically, gratitude towards a parent has been associated with resilience and low levels of aggression as well as high levels of happiness and low levels of depressive symptoms.”5
Gratitude not only transforms mental health but also shapes relationships with loved ones. Expressing appreciation to and for others is a powerful tool. It helps build and maintain trust, open communication, and a kind rapport with others.
HEALING YOUR THOUGHT LIFE
The Three T’s are a major principle of chiropractic care. It is also where The Wellness Way approach to healthcare starts. Three factors impact and impart physical health. They also impact disorders within the body. These factors are traumas, toxins, and thoughts.
That third T, thoughts, is an important one. Thoughts inform mental and emotional distress both consciously and unconsciously. They can be mind functions or brain functions, like neurotransmitters firing. A grateful brain and mind help relieve the brain of toxic thought patterns. Gratitude redirects neurotransmitters. It increases hormones like dopamine and serotonin6. Gratitude also settles chemicals in your body into a less inflamed, aggravated state. An attitude of gratitude has the power to direct an individual’s thought patterns. This helps create a cognitive environment for whole-body healing.
CULTIVATE GRATITUDE EXERCISES
Like eating healthy or exercising, a gratitude practice is a habit that can be grown over time. Here are a few simple ways to get started:
- Keep a gratitude journal. A journal will serve as a personal space for reflecting on the things in your life. These can be big or small things for which you are grateful. Writing even a few lines a day can shift and uplift your thoughts. Direct your attention to the good things in your life.
- Gratitude writing. Let the people in your life know that you appreciate them! Handwritten letters of gratitude convey thoughtfulness. The process of writing it out with ink and paper also encourages your mind to slow down as you reflect.
- Spend focused time with grateful people. Maybe it’s your spouse, child, or a friend at work. Set aside a few minutes a few times per week to spend time together and discuss what you’re thankful for. Share expressions of gratitude with another person. It’s a great way to strengthen relationships and sharpen your emotional skills.
- Take a break from technology. Increased experiences of depression, isolation, and reduced attention span are linked to technological distractions. Spend time away from a screen. Soak in and appreciate meaningful, real-life experiences with loved ones.
- Begin a prayer or meditation practice. Meditating in a quiet space for a few minutes a day supports your brain activity and stress response. Call to mind what you are grateful for. Appreciate the positive feelings and emotions that come from recalling your blessings. This takes practice and a noted effort. As humans, we tend to lean toward preserving negative emotions and negative experiences. Changing that habit to focus instead on the positive ones doesn’t come easily.
Gratitude has health benefits for areas other than your brain. It also impacts your immune system, blood pressure, and other areas in your daily life. To learn more about how to set your body up for success, contact a Wellness Way clinic, today!
- Greater Good: How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain
- The effects of gratitude expression on neural activity: Science Direct
- The Journal of Positive Psychology: Gratitude and Health
- Gratitude and hedonic and eudaimonic well-being in Vietnam war veterans: PubMed
- National Library of Medicine: Effects of gratitude on neural network connectivity
- What you need to know about the new neural knowledge: Wharton Alumni Club