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Gratitude Makes You Happier, Less Stressed, and Healthier

November 22, 2017 in Stress & Anxiety

Gratitude is defined as, “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Giving thanks isn't simply reserved for Thanksgiving. Making gratitude a daily practice that is enacted with intention, can actually increase mental well-being, amplify levels of overall happiness, reduce pain, and decrease stress levels. You may be asking... but how? One simple answer: neuroscience.

The Brain on Gratitude

Gratitude is not only an act of giving thanks, it's also an integral part of the brain and its ability to make social bonds with others. Glenn R. Fox PhD conducted a study that involved Holocaust survivors and studied their brain as it reacted to the generosity when strangers enacted lifesaving acts of kindness (providing food and clothing or protection).

Fox said, he 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 pre-frontal cortex, as well as the anterior cingulate cortex."

Gratitude Can Be Strengthened Like a Muscle

A brain-scanning study conducted at the Indiana University by researchers, found that stronger feelings of gratitude were reported after the feeling was consistently practiced for months. The researchers described these “profound” and “long-lasting” neural effects as “particularly noteworthy,” and they highlighted that one of the main regions that showed this increased sensitivity — the “pregenual anterior cingulate,” which is known to be involved in predicting the effects of one’s actions on other people.

This means that not only was gratitude increased and strengthened, but a greater feeling of empathy for other human beings. Basically, the more you practice expressing gratitude, the more you can strengthen this feeling and the more generous and virtuous you feel toward others.

Gratitude and Happiness

A psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman compared a control group with a group that delivered letters of thanks and gratitude to others. This study showed a large increase in happiness scores, some lasting upwards of a month. The benefits of gratitude as it relates to well-being was evident.

Studies have shown gratitude can lead to more positive and open relationships, higher motivation levels at work, and lower rates of depression and anxiety.

Create a Gratitude Journal

Get yourself a blank journal and every morning or at the end of every day, fill an entire page with the things you are grateful for. This can range from people in your life, to your basic physical capabilities and opportunities.

Go into detail about why you're grateful for each thing. Read and reread the list to fully appreciate what you have jotted down. Continue this practice for several weeks and notice how the practice of gratitude is strengthened over time.

Sources:

  1. Harvey B. Simon M.D. Harvard Health Publishing. Giving thanks can make you happier.
  2. Jarrett, Christian. The Cut. How Expressing Gratitude Might Change Your Brain. January 7, 2016.
  3. Psychology Today. Small Acts of Generosity and the Neuroscience of Gratitude. October 20, 2015.
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