Scientific evidence supports the fact that gratitude can have a powerful impact on both our bodies and minds.
According to Harvard Medical School, the word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness
Positive psychologists contend that gratitude is more than feeling thankful for something, it is more like a deeper appreciation for someone (or something,) which produces longer lasting positivity.
Two key areas of the brain that are activated during feelings or acts of gratitude are the Medial Prefrontal Cortex, which is involved in memory and decision making and the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, which lies in a unique position in the brain, with connections to both the “emotional” limbic system and the “cognitive” prefrontal cortex, so is heavily involved in decision-making and emotions.
Research shows that by experiencing gratitude in the now, makes us more likely to remember our positive memories more than our negative ones, and actually transforms some of our negative memories into more positive ones, as we start to see the value of these experiences as much as the positive ones.
Furthermore, studies have shown that putting people into a grateful mood helped them find closure of upsetting open memories. During these experiences, participants were more likely to recall positive aspects of the memory than usual, and some of the negative aspects were transformed into positives.
Feelings and acts of gratitude activate the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine affects parts of the brain involved in motivation, reward, and pleasure and it’s generally considered the “reward” neurotransmitter. Gratitude also engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which produces the feeling of calmness and releases serotonin, which affects mood, appetite, digestion, sleep, and memory.
Gratitude takes practice like any other skill. So, you could even think of your brain as having a sort of gratitude “muscle” that can be exercised and strengthened in the same way that you would strengthen the muscles of your body in the gym. So, the more practice giving gratitude to yourself and to others each day, the more the feeling will come to you spontaneously in the future.
According to gratitude researcher Robert Emmons, spending just 3 minutes a day focusing on the good can make you a whole lot happier. What Robert and other gratitude researchers Martin Seligman and Michael McCullough have found in regards to its relationship to health and mental well-being are;
- People who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis have been found to exercise more regularly, have fewer physical symptoms, feel better about their lives as a whole, and feel more optimistic about their upcoming week as compared to those who keep journals recording the stressors or neutral events of their lives.
- Daily discussion of gratitude results in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, energy, and sleep duration and quality. Grateful people also report lower levels of depression and stress, although they do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life.
- People who think about, talk about, or write about gratitude daily are more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or offered emotional support to another person.
- Those with a disposition towards gratitude are found to place less importance on material goods, are less likely to judge their own or others success in terms of possessions accumulated, are less envious of wealthy people, and are more likely to share their possessions with others.
By actively looking for things to be grateful for, you will find that you will start to appreciate the simple pleasures in life that previously you may have taken for granted. In the words of Brian Tracy “Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.”
So, start bringing gratitude into your day to day experiences and see how your body and mind change!