By producing feelings of pleasure and contentment, gratitude also impacts our overall health and well-being. Conversely, British psychologist and wellness expert Robert Holden suggested that unhappiness is rooted in many psychopathological conditions like depression, anxiety, and stress. "Couple" studies have also indicated that partners who expressed their thankfulness to each other often could sustain their relationships with mutual trust, loyalty, and had long-lasting happy relationships.
Gratitude improves health
Gratitude impacts mental and physical well-being. In the past few decades, positive psychology and mental health researchers have established an overwhelming connection between gratitude and good health. For example, keeping a gratitude journal causes less stress, improves sleep quality, and builds emotional awareness (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Perterson, 2005). In addition, gratitude positively correlates to more vitality, energy, and enthusiasm to work harder.
*Gratitude makes a leader compassionate, considerate, empathetic, and loved, among others.*
Gratitude and neurotransmitters
Emily Fletcher, the founder of Ziva, a well-known meditation training site, mentioned in one of her publications that gratitude is a 'natural antidepressant.' The effects of gratitude, when practiced daily, can be almost the same as medications. It produces a feeling of long-lasting happiness and contentment, the physiological basis of which lies at the neurotransmitter level.
When we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel 'good.' They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside.
By consciously practicing gratitude daily, we can help these neural pathways strengthen themselves and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves.
How gratitude affects the brain
"It is not happiness that brings us gratitude. It is gratitude that brings us happiness."
Gratitude may be a gesture or a group of kind words we give or receive from others. But these simple exchanges of thankfulness go a long way in affecting our overall biological functioning - especially the brain and the nervous system. Moreover, the effect of gratitude on the brain is long-lasting (Aahn et al., 2007).
Gratitude releases toxic emotions - The limbic system is the part of the brain responsible for all emotional experiences. It consists of the thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus, and cingulate gyrus. Studies have shown that the hippocampus and amygdala, the two main sites regulating emotions, memory, and bodily functioning, get activated with feelings of gratitude.
Gratitude reduces pain - Counting Blessings vs. Burdens (Emmons & McCullough, 2003), a study conducted on evaluating the effect of gratitude on physical wellbeing, indicated that 16% of the patients who kept a gratitude journal reported reduced pain symptoms and were more willing to work out and cooperate with the treatment procedure. A deeper dig into the cause unleashed that by regulating the level of dopamine, gratitude fills us with more vitality, thereby reducing subjective feelings of pain.
Gratitude improves sleep quality - Studies have shown that receiving and displaying simple acts of kindness activates the hypothalamus and thereby regulates all bodily mechanisms controlled by the hypothalamus, out of which sleep is a vital one. A brain filled with gratitude and kindness is more likely to sleep better and wake up feeling refreshed and energetic every morning (Zahn et al., 2009).
Gratitude aids in stress regulation - McCraty and colleagues (cited in McCraty & Childre, 2004), in one of their studies on gratitude and appreciation, found that participants who felt grateful showed a marked reduction in the level of cortisol, the stress hormone. In addition, they had better cardiac functioning and were more resilient to emotional setbacks and negative experiences. Significant studies over the years have established that by practicing gratitude, we can handle stress better than others. By merely acknowledging and appreciating the little things in life, we can rewire the brain to deal with the present circumstances with more awareness and broader perception.
Gratitude reduces anxiety and depression - By reducing stress hormones and managing the autonomic nervous system functions, gratitude significantly reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety. In addition, at the neurochemical level, feelings of gratitude are associated with an increase in the neural modulation of the prefrontal cortex, the brain site responsible for managing negative emotions like guilt, shame, and violence. As a result, people who keep a gratitude journal or use verbal expressions for the same are more empathetic and positive-minded by nature.
Does gratitude change the brain?
The Mindfulness Awareness Research Center of UCLA stated that gratitude does change the neural structures in the brain and makes us feel happier and more content.
Feeling grateful and appreciating others when they do something good for us triggers the 'good' hormones and regulates the effective functioning of the immune system.
Scientists have suggested that by activating the brain's reward center, gratitude exchange alters how we see the world and ourselves.
The effects of practicing gratitude are not immediate, but once started, gratitude continues to impact our physical and psychological well-being for years.
We know how to experience and express gratitude. All we need sometimes is a little push or a reminder of how powerful and vital gratitude exercises are.
Unhappy people lean more on their weaknesses and struggle with their self-identity. We must stop doubting ourselves and start celebrating our achievements.
Start by saying three things you are grateful for every day, look at yourself in the mirror, and give yourself three compliments every day. Do this for 21 days in a row, and you will feel more empowered. If you mess up and miss a day, it's ok; start again. Soon, you won't have to think about it; you will do it automatically every day and live a more joyful life!