The Effects of Gratitude On the Brain

Effects of gratitude on the brain can be surprisingly beneficial
the effects of the gratitude on the brain
Image credit: Adrien Griveau

The ability to express gratitude for what is rather than focusing on what isn’t can create profound effects on our physical and emotional well-being.

According to research, this ability to express gratitude, even privately or internally, can also boast amazing effects on the brain itself.

Gratitude doesn’t have to be over-reaching or large-in-scale, instead it is the simple human way of acknowledging the good things in life, even if things aren’t necessarily perfect.

The effects of gratitude when practiced daily can change the way we think, feel, and perceive the world.

How Gratitude Affects the Brain

Let’s examine exactly how gratitude affects the brain.

Researchers often refer to gratitude as the ‘natural antidepressant.’ In fact, gratitude can effectively make you happier. When practiced regularly, gratitude can produce lingering feelings of happiness and contentment, the physiological basis of these feelings lies in the brain at the neurotransmitter level.

When we actively express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases two powerful components: dopamine and serotonin.

These are two crucial neurotransmitters that are responsible for our emotions.

They are what make us feel good, enhancing our mood immediately.

When you feel happy from the inside out, it is thanks to these two distinct neurotransmitters.

Research suggests that when individuals practice gratitude everyday, regardless of external circumstances, those natural pathways in the brain strengthen themselves and create a permanent and grateful positive nature within.

Simply put, gratitude changes the neural structures in our brain allowing us to feel happier and more content.

Additionally, feeling grateful and appreciating what we have triggers ‘good’ hormones that regulate effective brain functioning of the immune system.

Scientists suggest that by activating these neural pathways in the brain alters the way we see the world and ourselves.

4 Effects of Gratitude On the Brain

As mentioned above, research shows that gratitude doesn’t just change how we feel, it also changes how we think in a long-term capacity.

But there is more to gratitude than what meets the eye. Let’s take a look at how gratitude changes the brain and as a result, our bodies.

1. Gratitude Releases Built-Up Toxic Emotions

The part of the brain that is responsible for all emotional experience is known as the limbic system.Studies suggest that the hippocampus and amygdala of the limbic system, the two main sites responsible for regulating emotions, bodily functions, and memory, get activated when feelings of gratitude are expressed.

What we call ‘emotions’ are neural activations in the neocortical regions of the brain. Studies showed that those who were experiencing emotional digress, felt better and recovered sooner by simply writing letters of gratitude and expressing gratitude, in addition to regular counseling.

2. Gratitude Helps with Pain Management

Another study known as Counting Blessings vs Burdens sought to evaluate the effect of gratitude on one’s physical well being.

The study found that 16% of all individuals studied who kept a gratitude journal signaled fewer pain symptoms over time and were more willing to cooperate with treatment procedures.

The study found that when we regulate levels of dopamine through the expression of gratitude, that expression fills us with more vitality and vigor, essentially reducing feelings of pain.

3. Gratitude Reduces Stress

In a 1998 study conducted by McCraty and Colleagues, researchers found that individuals who felt grateful and expressed marked gratitude showed an overall reduction in their levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

They also demonstrated better cardiac functioning and proved more resilient to emotional setbacks or negative issues than their peers. By practicing gratitude, stress is handled more easily.

By simply acknowledging and appreciating what one has, rather than dwelling on the negative, we can rewire the brain to better deal with less-than-ideal circumstances through perception.

4. Gratitude Regulated Anxiety and Depression

When we effectively reduce the stress hormones in the body and manage nervous system functions, we experience a significant reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety.

At a very basic neurochemical level, expressions and feelings of gratitude are linked with an overall rise in neural modulation of the prefrontal cortex, the site in the brain responsible for managing negative emotions such as guilt and shame.

How To Start A Gratitude Practice

Starting a gratitude practice may seem daunting, but it all starts with a commitment to a bit of daily gratitude.

So how to start a gratitude practice?

Start by choosing a quiet time of day and set aside a few moments to sit with your thoughts.

Focus on all of the things, big or small, that you feel grateful for. Sayings such as “I am grateful for a hot shower and a warm bed”  or “I am grateful for the love of my pet” are all great places to start.

Gratitude starts with the everyday simple little pleasures that we often take for granted.

By simply sitting with your thoughts and expressing gratitude for all of the wonderful things that do exist, you’re changing those neural pathways in the brain.

When it comes to actually expressing your gratitude, you can choose to say what you’re grateful for out loud in a meditative manner, mentally list your grateful sayings to yourself, or start a physical gratitude journal.

There is no wrong way to practice gratitude, as long as you find a little time each day to do so!

So we’re hope we show you all effects of the gratitude on the brain.

Also, learn more about mindfulness here.

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