We all aspire to lead healthy, happy lives. In our quest for happiness, we humans do everything in our power to boost our contentment and stay away from negativity and pain. But most of us tend to overlook a very powerful tool: one that is already within us, completely free to use, and one of the most abundant and reliable sources of happiness: gratitude.
As Thanksgiving fast approaches, the subject of gratitude becomes popular again as the expectations ramp up for festive times spent with family and friends. It is easy to be grateful for only a few days out of the year; however, research shows that being thankful throughout the year can have tremendous benefits for your quality of life and health.
Read on for the scientific benefits of gratitude and how to look for more ways to give daily thanks in your life.
How gratitude can affect the body
Gratitude can change your brain. There is quite a bit of science behind gratitude – namely, that gratitude is a powerful tool than can actually change the neural pathways of your brain. Being thankful triggers the brain regions associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine feels so good to get that it is considered the “reward” neurotransmitter of our brains. But getting one hit of dopamine is usually never enough. Your brain will start to look for ways it can repeat the action to get more, which helps create a virtuous cycle. So, once you start recognizing things to be grateful for, your brain will actually start looking for more things to be grateful for – all for that boost of happiness.
Gratitude increases mental strength. For most of us, when life throws us an unexpected curveball, the last feeling we expect to feel is gratefulness. However, the science is there to show us we do. Even after a traumatic event such as an act of violence, terrorism or nature, studies have shown that those who survived it benefit from a greater appreciation of life. It’s not that the trauma disappears and gratitude takes its place – the aftermath of coping through difficult feelings will take time to heal, but often they are accompanied by a deep sense of thankfulness for life. Recognizing all you have to be grateful for – even during your worst and most low moments – can help foster strength and resiliency in all sorts of ways.
Gratitude can help you get along with others. As social creatures, humans put an enormous amount of importance on cultivating successful and fulfilling relationships, be it with our coworkers, family, friends or romantic partners. But often times, we can take relationships for granted and forget to nourish them in a way that fosters growth. One easy fix: express your appreciation for others. Intentionally establishing an attitude of gratitude can help you feel more positively towards others, more supportive, and more willing to help people out without requiring anything in return. Gratitude can also help reduce toxic emotions, such as envy, frustration, anger and resentment. It sounds so simple, but sometimes just by telling another you are grateful, you can improve a relationship.
Ways to cultivate gratitude
Try creating a daily gratitude habit. During your day, find time to quietly identify any number of people, situations or things that you are grateful for, whether big or small. Try sticking with a certain number each day, such as 3, 5 or 10. Remember to give yourself the emotional space to set aside your daily concerns so you can feel centered and peaceful. You’ll find that often the things you are most grateful for aren’t material things, but the people you have in your life, your health, your ability to be there for others, and the wellbeing of those around you.
Express yourself. Make a point to express your honest thanks to someone that helps you – be it your barista, the bank teller, or the receptionist on the other end of the phone line. Make it a goal to thank someone for something specific each day.
Slow down and take time to reflect. Sometimes the key to being grateful is simply slowing down. During your busy day, try to find a moment to pause from the daily grind and acknowledge the ways others have helped you along in your journey.
Often, with our busy day-to-day lives, it can be hard to remember to thank people. We might feel grateful but we forget to express it, or we assume that the other person already knows how we feel. But we all have the ability and opportunity to be a little more thankful in our lives. The proof is in the pudding: gratitude can create a ripple effect of improved happiness, well-being, and positivity to help create a kinder world. Gratitude is the investment that never fails.
Be strong: Physically, mentally, financially.
Harvard Health Publishing. “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier.
Korb, Alex. “The Grateful Brain.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 20 Nov. 2012, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201211/the-grateful-brain.