Updated: Sep 4, 2020
Did you know that adopting an ‘attitude of gratitude’ can actually change your brain? When we are grateful, our brains release ‘happy’ neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which give us an immediate enhancement in our mood. If we practice this regularly, these positive neural pathways become stronger and soon enough will become an automatic state of being.
'Neurons that fire together, wire together'
Gratitude improves the functioning of biological systems like the brain and nervous system and can have a significant impact on our physical and mental health:
1. Gratitude can reduce pain
In 2003 psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough studied people with neuromuscular disorders and asked them to make a list of things they were grateful for every night before bed. Patients who kept a gratitude journal reported reduced pain symptoms. As gratitude regulates our dopamine levels, our feelings of pain are reduced.
2. Gratitude can improve sleep
In the same research, Emmons and McCullough found that after 3 weeks, those who kept a gratitude journal reported improved sleep quality. Researchers at Manchester University have since conducted a study of 400 adults, 40% of which had sleep disorders. They discovered that daily gratitude practice was related to having more positive thoughts at bedtime, therefore enhancing sleep quality and length.
3. Gratitude can reduce stress
Studies have found that those who feel grateful have a reduced level of cortisol, the stress hormone. A direct relationship between gratitude and stress shows that gratitude can reduce stress as well as decrease symptoms of depression.
4. Gratitude can improve heart health
Reducing the stress hormone cortisol encourages better cardiac function. According to a 2014 study of 111 participants with heart failure, gratitude can alleviate struggles of patients with advanced heart failure and positively influence their quality of life.
'When you have an attitude of gratitude, you wake up saying thank you'
So, an attitude of gratitude can have positive effects on your mental wellbeing, by reducing feelings of anxiety, depression and improving sleep. Furthermore, it can have an effect on your physical health, reducing the risk of inflammation and heart failure.
It’s never too late to re-wire your brain to be positive and optimistic, making you feel great.
Start by listing one thing every night that you are grateful for. It could be as simple as ‘I had a lovely catch up with a friend’ or ‘I had enough money for the car park’. Eventually you can build this up to a few things to be grateful for every day, and perhaps even start a gratitude journal where you write them down. Having these thoughts will strengthen the neural pathways and soon you will notice the benefits.
Grateful people are more empathetic, have more life satisfaction, lower levels of stress, exercise more regularly, are more likely to achieve their goals, and are seen as generous and helpful.
So, what is there not to be grateful for?