Six scientifically proven reasons why gratitude rewires and improves your mind and body
Gratitude is one of the most powerful human emotions and once expressed it can change an attitude, brighten an outlook and broaden a perspective. Although all these things may be true, one fundamental fact is that gratitude is good for the body. A healthy mind equals a healthy body.
Since kindness lifts our spirits and warms our hearts, it aids in fighting off a negative mindset, healing and sometimes even curing a plethora of illnesses that ail us. It’s understandable that in troubled times, we may sometimes feel that we have less to be thankful for, but perhaps the reason why we feel that way is because we aren’t saying thank you enough for the things we do have.
Researchers have discovered that gratitude has some incredible benefits and with daily practice it can literally rewire the brain and body to manifest good health and joy.
SIX IMPORTANT SCIENTIFIC FACTS ABOUT GRATITUDE:
1. Gratitude is good for the brain
Did you know that the hypothalamus is the part of our brain that regulates a number of our bodily functions including our appetites, sleep, temperature, metabolism and growth. A 2009 National Institutes of Health (NIH) study showed that our hypothalamus is activated when we feel gratitude, or display acts of kindness. This research on gratitude means, although it might be hard to believe, we literally can’t function without grace. That is a powerful thought. And it’s addictive! Acts of kindness and feelings of gratitude flood our brain with a chemical called dopamine. When we are truly grateful for something our brain rewards us by giving us a natural high. Because this feeling is so good, we are motivated to feel it again and become more inclined to give thanks and also to do good for others.
2. Gratitude relieves pain
Something as simple as saying thanks can alleviate physical pain. A study called ‘Counting Blessings vs. Burdens’ written by Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough in 2003, focused on sick patients that were made to keep a gratitude journal. They discovered sixteen per cent of them reported reduced symptoms and ten per cent reported a decrease in pain. It also showed that they were more willing to exercise and were far more motivated in their recovery.
3. Gratitude helps you sleep better
Various scientific studies and research on gratitude have all yielded the same result: gratitude increases the quality of our sleep, decreases the time it takes to fall asleep and lengthens the duration of our sleep. As mentioned in the first point, sleep is one of the many vital things controlled by the hypothalamus. Since gratitude activates it (and in fact, our entire limbic system), when we are thankful it becomes easier for us to fall into deep, healthy, natural sleep. This of course has a domino effect on our health. For instance, sleep is connected to many bodily functions, and enough of it can remedy anxiety, depression, pain and stress. It also boosts our immune system.
“The secret to having it all is knowing you already do.”
4. Gratitude helps with stress relief
Gratitude is physically good for our hearts and nervous system. In a 2007 study focused on the benefits of gratitude, patients with hypertension were made to count their blessings once a week. Results showed a significant decrease in their systolic blood pressure. This gratitude research also discovered that frequently writing in a gratitude journal can reduce blood pressure by ten per cent. In another study by McCraty and Colleagues in 1998, subjects were made to cultivate appreciation. Twenty-three per cent showed a decrease in cortisol—the most prominent stress hormone. Even more impressive is that eighty per cent showed changes in heart rate variability; a direct result of reduced stress levels. And that’s not all, gratitude also benefits us by making us more resilient to trauma and stressful events.
5. Gratitude reduces anxiety and depression
In a 2012 research study on gratitude, Chinese researchers noticed that gratitude not only had profound effect on sleep, but they discovered in subjects with depression, the amount and quality of sleep was unrelated to lower depression scores, meaning that gratitude alleviated their depressive symptoms regardless of how much or how well the patient slept. This suggests that one of the benefits of gratitude may be decreasing symptoms related to depression. And in patients with anxiety, sleep and reduced anxiety were correlated, leading researchers to conclude that lower anxiety scores were the result of healthy sleep. Although the result was indirect, gratitude also led to better sleep, which in turn led to reduced anxiety.
6. Gratitude creates increased energy and vitality
With all of the benefits of gratitude that have been mentioned here, does it come as a surprise that gratitude makes us stronger? There are many hypotheses supporting why exactly gratitude makes us healthier—from stronger immune systems thanks to sleep, to healthier hearts due to less stress, and even to the more spiritual theories—such as being thankful makes us more optimistic and that in itself boosts our vitality. Gratitude research has repeatedly shown that thankful people have higher energy levels, are more relaxed, are happier and are healthier. Naturally, these gratitude benefits lead us to the conclusion that being grateful has the potential to lengthen our lifespans.