The Neuroscience of Gratitude
Nov 26, 2021
“Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.” – Henry Ward Beecher
There are a lot of workshops, books, and trainings about how to cultivate an "attitude of gratitude", but what are the actual physiological and neurological benefits of practicing gratitude and thankfulness?
Studies have shown that feelings of gratitude are primarily evoked in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex. These are deep regions in your brain's frontal lobes and play a big role in emotional responses, empathy, decision-making, and self-control.
Brain chemicals called neurotransmitters influence your mood in a variety of ways. When you enter into a grateful state of mind, your brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of happiness.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter often referred to as the "motivation molecule". Dopamine contributes to feelings of motivation, happiness, and focus. Dopamine also plays a role in your blood vessel function, movements, and heart rate.
Serotonin is another primary neurotransmitter that is often referred to as the "happiness chemical" due to its critical role in feelings of well-being and happiness. Serotonin aslo plays a role in your sleep, digestion, and sexual function. Serotonin is primarily house in your gut, where up to 95% of it is produced, but passes through the blood-brain barrier to affect your neurology.
Due to the release of these two main neurotransmitters, studies have shown that a consistent gratitude practice can decrease your risk of depression and anxiety while improving your mood in both an immediate and lasting way.
The question becomes, how do you practice gratitude? Here are a few ways to incorporate a gratitude practice into your daily routine:
1. Gratitude Journaling – Keeping a daily journal of what you're thankful for can be a way to positively reinforce the good things in your life. Instead of reeling off a long laundry list of the things you're grateful for, pick only a few per day and write down the specific reasons why you're grateful for them. Doing this before bedtime can be powerful practice by taking inventory of your day.
2. Prayer & Affirmations – Prayers, mantras, and affirmations can uplift your mood. By incorporating gratitude into your practice and affirming the things you're grateful for can set a positive tone, especially if you fuse this gratitude practice into your daily meditation or prayers.
3. Extending Generosity – Gratitude creates cyclical energy that engenders feelings of generosity. Donating your time, financial resources, or attention to the causes that matter to you creates a feedback loop of positive energy that extends from your life and touches the lives of others.
“When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out and the tide of love rushes in.” – Kristin Armstrong
We have a ton of actionable tips like the ones in this post to share with you, like how to:
- take charge of your life,
- feel good enough,
- improve your mental well-being, and
- elevate your wellness brand.
Enjoy and thank you for reading!