The Science of Gratitude

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2).

No one can argue that being grateful is a bad thing, but most people don’t realize just how transformative it can be to have a regular practice of gratitude. Whether it’s keeping a gratitude journal or being in the habit of sending thank you cards, research has shown that the science behind gratitude is life changing. Here is what we know:

Gratitude activates important parts of the brain.
Studies have shown that gratitude activates the parts of the brain called the ventral and dorsal medial pre-frontal cortex. These areas in the brain are responsible for feeling relief (like when a negative thing is removed). These areas are also involved in our understanding of morality, bonding with other people, and general positive social interactions as they help us understand what other people are thinking or feeling. Gratitude helps us tap into these skills our brain has.

Gratitude can change the chemicals in your brain.
Beyond simply engaging important parts of the brain, gratitude has the ability to affect the balance of neurochemicals, the molecules in our brain that affect our mood. You may recognize some of these neurochemicals because of how closely they are connected to happiness. Dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin are all neurochemicals that gratitude has shown to increase. When people change their mindset from dwelling on negatives to thinking about positive things they’re grateful for, the brain experiences a surge of these happiness chemicals. In addition to creating a sense of happiness, these neurochemicals caused by gratitude also contribute to feeling closer and more connected with others.

Gratitude’s effects are far reaching.
According to Dr. Robert Emmons, the most prominent researcher on gratitude, there is a clear link between gratitude and general wellbeing. In his multiple studies on this connection, Dr. Emmons was able to confirm that gratitude increases happiness and reduces depression. While studying 1,000 people from the ages of 8-80, Dr. Emmons and his team discovered that people who have a regular practice of gratitude report many benefits. These benefits range from physical benefits like less aches and pains and lower blood pressure to psychological benefits of being more alert and experiencing more joy. They were also able to link gratitude to social benefits like being more forgiving, generous, compassionate, and feeling less isolated.

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