The Science Behind Gratitude: How does It Change Us?

Feeling gratitude can have a real positive part of your life - but why? Here we look at the science behind gratitude.

There are times in our lives when our inner voices tell us that we’re perfectly fine, that we must appreciate what we have, at that moment of speaking, and that things are going in the right direction. 

Now, this does not mean that we are now aware of the difficulties we have ahead of us. It only means that we are also aware of both the yings and yangs of our lives, and we don’t surrender to negative emotions solely. 

People who have experienced this sort of feeling, where you can breathe deeply, inhale the air that you are breathing very heavily and exhale, all of this while being thankful – these people will know the sort of difference this intense feeling makes for them. 

There is a lightness in your being, in the short-term and the long-term. This is exactly what feeling grateful means, and this is what gratitude does for us. 

The word gratitude derives from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. Gratia helps us keep a smile on our face, even when we’re going through tough times. 

It makes us aware of the people around us that love us and whom we love, the good moments of life and the small victories we must cherish. 

All gurus and spiritual leaders, even medical professionals will tell you that if you want to reduce your stress, depression, health problems whether that be mental health or physical health – you should try being more grateful in life. But why is that?

Gratitude_1.jpg
Feeling Grateful: This reflective feeling can create a positive outlook

 

The Findings

“Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.” – Henry Ward Beecher

Indeed, there are proven facts and there is living evidence on how gratitude has changed people’s lives for the best both on the psychological and neurobiological level. 

This wonderful feeling has become sort of like a fundamental element of our daily lives to the point where it holds together our social fabric. 

This is mainly because feelings of gratitude nurture our individual mental health and strengthen the bonds we have with other people. 

In a study conducted with Holocaust survivors, Glenn R. Fox, PhD of the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC and his colleagues found that “when the brain feels gratitude, it activates areas responsible for feelings of reward, moral cognition, subjective value judgments, fairness, economic decision-making and self-reference. 

These areas include the ventral- and dorsal- medial prefrontal cortex, as well as the anterior cingulate cortex. 

He further added that “The results provide a window into the brain circuitry for moral cognition and positive emotion that accompanies the experience of benefitting from the goodwill of others.”

 

Harvard and Gratitude

According to Harvard Health Publishing, there is another significant leading researcher in this field, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who has tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people. 

He seems to have done this by comparing their answers through a control assignment of writing about early memories. 

When the assignment of the week for these individuals was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. 

The impact from this assignment or better say, from the results deriving from this assignment was greater than that from any other intervention exercised, with benefits lasting for a month.

Really, the benefits of expressing and feeling gratitude seem to be life-changing. 

 

Ziva

You may as well know the famous meditation training site called Ziva. This site is run by Emily Fletcher, its founder, who is also a ‘leading expert in meditation for extraordinary performance’ Emily Fletcher, in one of her publications emphasises gratitude as a ‘natural antidepressant’. 

The effects of gratitude can be so altering, to the point that when practiced on a daily basis  they can have the same effects as medications do for a human being, or at least come very close to them. 

Gratitude provides us with a feeling of long-lasting happiness, the physiological basis of which lies at the neurotransmitter level.

“When we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’. 

“They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside”. – Positive Psychology

And there goes some light shed upon the scientific data behind gratitude. Now, what’s left for us to do? Here are some small suggestions:

  • Our brains love consistency. Practice gratitude in a consistent regular manner, and the brain will wire itself to think positively.
  • Keep a journal. Write down things you’re grateful for every day.
  • Express your gratitude. Tell the people you love how much you appreciate them.
  • Remember positive experiences and hold on tight to them.
  • Do not ignore negative emotions. Simply become aware of their temporary nature.
  • Have patience. 

When gratitude and consistency meet, fireworks splash underneath our brains. Trust the process and trust the power of time, through which you can gradually train your mind to become a more positive, reflective human being!


 

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