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Science of gratitude: time to give thanks

November 21, 2017

 

Be thankful.  It’s good for your brain, body, health, and for everyone around you!

 

The holiday season is action-packed. Our schedules overflow, and we run around as if we are sprinting through life in a hundred-meter dash.  All the attention hogs we navigate,  programmed consumerism, social media, status updates, deadlines, and world affairs, lead us to identify with lack, anxiety, and stress.  We look at the world through a narrow lens and it feels like everything is upside down.  

 

When this happens, we miss out on the beautiful richness of the holidays.  Sometimes we are downright ungrateful and may feel even more disconnected.  Are you willing to up your game of gratitude and enjoy the holidays?  

 

Here are five simple reasons to start giving thanks - revel in the benefits!

 

  1. Researchers found that keeping a daily gratitude journal increases your positive outlook on life.  Additionally, this cultivates an attitude of abundance rather than lack, so you are able to see more of what you have rather than focusing on what you perceive as missing in your life.  This simple life hack of gratitude raises your level of happiness.  
     

  2. Studies show that practicing gratitude releases positive neurochemicals, like dopamine, and engages the reward system in the brain.  Your attitude of gratitude builds long-lasting reward circuits that are coupled with positive behavior and thought patterns developed through meaning and intention.  The simple act of gratitude strengthens positive brain circuits allowing for greater brain power and prosperity.  
     

  3. Engaging in gratitude has major health benefits like lessening symptoms of depression and anxiety, reducing heart rate, as well as decreasing physical ailments and reducing physical pain.  Highlighting that, a positive thought process actually improves your physical and mental health.  Giving thanks can actually increase your longevity!
     

  4. Gratitude builds positive relationships with people around you and enhances prosocial behavior.  Since the act of gratitude recognizes goodness outside of yourself, whether it is as simple as someone opening the door for you, or your spouse making dinner, this opens your mind to compassion for others by magnifying your behavior to be giving and altruistic.  Build the practice of paying it forward.  People with more gratitude have more positive social and family relationships.  
     

  5. Gratitude is a building block for an optimistic attitude.  A person that sees light at the end of the tunnel, or a glass half full, has a more optimistic outlook and is grateful.  An optimistic attitude is correlated with meaning, greater social bonds, and longevity.    

 

Here are my words of thanksgiving to kick off a holiday season. Thank you Mom, for teaching me to have courage; thank you Dad, for supporting me to do what I love; Spencer, thank you for making me laugh and see the light; Billy, thank you for your endless devotion; Coco and Star, my spirit animals, thank you for just being.  Thank you, dear reader, for taking the time to share this moment of gratitude with me. 

 

References 

 

Emmons RA, McCullough ME. Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental

investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. J Pers Soc

Psychol. 2003 Feb;84(2):377-89. PubMed PMID: 12585811.

 

Froh JJ, Sefick WJ, Emmons RA. Counting blessings in early adolescents: an

experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being. J Sch Psychol. 2008

Apr;46(2):213-33. doi: 10.1016/j.jsp.2007.03.005. Epub 2007 May 4. PubMed PMID:

19083358.

 

Froh JJ, Sefick WJ, Emmons RA. Counting blessings in early adolescents: an

experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being. J Sch Psychol. 2008

Apr;46(2):213-33. doi: 10.1016/j.jsp.2007.03.005. Epub 2007 May 4. PubMed PMID:

19083358.

 

Grant AM, Gino F. A little thanks goes a long way: Explaining why gratitude

expressions motivate prosocial behavior. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2010

Jun;98(6):946-55. doi: 10.1037/a0017935. PubMed PMID: 20515249.

 

Kyeong S, Kim J, Kim DJ, Kim HE, Kim JJ. Effects of gratitude meditation on

neural network functional connectivity and brain-heart coupling. Sci Rep. 2017

Jul 11;7(1):5058. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-05520-9. PubMed PMID: 28698643; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5506019.

 

Taylor CT, Lyubomirsky S, Stein MB. Upregulating the positive affect system in

anxiety and depression: Outcomes of a positive activity intervention. Depress

Anxiety. 2017 Mar;34(3):267-280. doi: 10.1002/da.22593. Epub 2017 Jan 6. PubMed

PMID: 28060463.

 

Zahn R, Moll J, Paiva M, Garrido G, Krueger F, Huey ED, Grafman J. The neural 

basis of human social values: evidence from functional MRI. Cereb Cortex. 2009

Feb;19(2):276-83. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhn080. Epub 2008 May 22. PubMed PMID:

18502730; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2733324.

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