Gratitude is gaining prominence and receiving rave reviews for its countless benefits. This powerful emotion when translated into meaningful gestures can benefit the giver as well as the recipient.
This leads us to the questions. How does gratitude work? Does Gratitude Change the Brain? How Gratitude Affects the Brain?
This article explores how expressions of gratitude work their magic on you and the people you care for.
How does gratitude work?
Gratitude when practiced in any of its myriad forms is associated with happiness and contentment. This is true whether we are giving it or at the receiving end. That is in fact the beauty of gratitude. It is beneficial to everyone involved.
The link between gratitude and happiness is manifold. Expressing gratitude triggers positive emotions – happiness being the most prominent among them. The other emotions include optimism, self-esteem, empathy, selflessness, and spirituality. And, all these roads lead to pure joy.
Gratitude is not meant to be practiced only on people around us. It can work its miracle when directed at ourselves as well. We can always use more kindness, forgiveness, and understanding from ourselves, making our lives easier and more tolerable.
The flow of positive emotions as a result of practicing gratitude can lead to many good things in life. Such as improved health, stronger relationships, and increased productivity.
How does gratitude affect the brain?
The connection of gratitude with the brain has been proved beyond doubt in several clinical studies.
The moral judgments associated with the feelings of gratitude are dealt with in the right anterior temporal cortex, the part of the brain linked to creating and preserving long-term memory by absorbing visual and verbal information.
People who experience the emotions of gratitude are found to have a higher volume of grey matter in the right inferior temporal gyrus. The neurochemical variations at the Central Nervous System account for the existence of gratitude in some of us and not in others.
Gratitude can produce feelings of sheer joy and contentment. At a physiological level, this can be explained as the release of neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. These are the two neurotransmitters responsible for the “feel good” emotion.
The presence of these neurotransmitters in our system makes us feel happy and enhances our mood. This turn of events has multiple consequences like reduction of fear and anxiety by the regulation of the stress hormone and encouraging restructuring of our basic knowledge through positive thinking.
The daily practice of gratitude creates new neural pathways to positive emotions like happiness and satisfaction. Conscious and regular practice of gratitude can strengthen these neural pathways and create a permanent positive and thankful behavior pattern in us.
Some of the common impacts of gratitude on body functions and psychological conditions are:
- Relief from stress and anxiety
- Reduction in pain and ailments
- Improvement in quality of sleep
- Eliminations of negative emotions
- Lowering of depression level
Does gratitude change the brain?
Extensive studies and research have been done on this subject and all point towards the same answer. Yes, practicing gratitude does lead to alteration in the structure of the brain.
It has been proven beyond doubt that expressions of gratitude do cause a change in the neural structures of the brain. This results in positive emotions such as joy and fulfillment. Practicing gratitude and appreciating others trigger the release of “feel good” hormones, ensuring a positive mindset and a healthier and robust immune system.
Many studies suggest that gratitude practice activates the reward center of the brain. This results in changing the way we view the world, the people around us, as well as ourselves.
When we give or receive gratitude, our brain is forced to focus on what we have now. Something we would have ignored or forgotten otherwise. This brings the spotlight on the present, leading to mindfulness or living in the moment.
When our focus shifts to the blessings and the present moment, it triggers the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These are the ones that control our emotions, fear, stress, and anxiety levels. This results in an increase in the levels of happiness, motivation, and contentment.
Psychological effects of gratitude
Recent studies have revealed the indisputable connection between gratitude and mental health. It has always been known to be beneficial for healthy, well-adjusted people. These studies suggest that gratitude practice can also benefit those who are struggling with mental health issues.
When coupled with counseling, practicing gratitude has a big role to play in the recovery and rehabilitation of those with psychological conditions. One of the main psychological benefits of gratitude is the shift of mental focus from negative to positive emotions.
Most mental health concerns result from the inability to discard or move away from negative thinking. Negative thinking leads to even more negative thinking, forming a vicious cycle that is hard to break free from.
Expressions of gratitude fill us with positive emotions, forcing the mind to focus on them and shift the attention away from the negative thoughts. When you are thinking about how happy you are or how happy you made others feel with expressions of gratitude, you are creating a crack or break in the vicious cycle of negative thoughts.
That break makes it harder for your mind to ruminate on negativity. Most probably that is all the mind needs to break free.
Studies have found that the positive impacts of gratitude remain the same even when you are not sharing it with others. Such as writing a letter of gratitude to a person who has helped you but not sending it or handing it over to the person. Even if the said person is not aware of your gratitude towards them, it is still found to be effective in tackling psychological issues.
The effect of gratitude is not immediate in most cases. It is not a magic wand that can resolve issues in the blink of an eye. The positive influences of gratitude accrue over time to create a visible impact. Time, patience, and perseverance are key to extracting the benefits of gratitude.
Though the benefits of gratitude might take time to kick in, its effects are found to be long-lasting. Some of the recent studies suggest that practicing gratitude conditions the brain to be more receptive to the effects of gratitude for longer periods. This means that gratitude has lasting psychological effects on the brain.
Practicing gratitude is synonymous with more happiness and satisfaction, improved health and relationships, and viewing the world through the lens of love and compassion. With simple words and actions, we can effectively improve the lives of others as well as ourselves.
By turning the expressions of gratitude towards ourselves, we learn to acknowledge and accept our strengths and assets. This can help us regain control of our lives and live it the way we want to.
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” – Voltaire