Gratitude and your Brain
Gratitude and your brain
While the concept of gratitude might bring up religious and spiritual connotations, it is an emotion and a practice that has been essential to our human evolution, it is embedded in our brains and DNA and it is a crucial component to childhood development. Gratitude plays a phenomenal role in our happiness and wellbeing, according to neuroscience. Research has shown that feelings of gratitude lead to an increase in neuron density and higher emotional intelligence.
Gratitude and your brain:
The role gratitude plays in the brain is significant and that is in thanks to two very special neurotransmitters, called dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is known as the feel-good hormone, it is involved in the reward pathway of the brain and thereby initiates many “positive” feelings that we associate with happiness. Gratitude triggers the release of dopamine and causes that surge of pleasure that we all desire.
Serotonin is also released with feelings of gratitude. This neurotransmitter is a mood enhancer that is also associated with will power and motivation. You may find that when practicing gratitude, you suddenly feel more motivation to take on tasks in your life, to show people you love how much you care about them, or to wake up early to start the new day. Serotonin would be to thank for a sustainable and well-balanced motivation for life!
Additionally, the more you practice gratitude, the stronger and more frequent these neurons will fire, which will only strengthen the emotion of gratitude and your brain’s pleasurable response to it. Remember that this is like creating a neural pathway and the more often it is fired the easier it is to access!
Social implications of gratitude:
While considering the personal benefits of practicing gratitude, let’s not forget the bigger picture of why it is so important to practice this emotion, mood or personality trait- to make the world a better place.
Research has shown that the practice of gratitude has significant implications for how we treat ourselves, our family and loved ones, coworkers, strangers and our surrounding environment.
Now you know some of the neuroscience behind how gratitude impacts the brain, you understand that it will help your own life as well as those around you, and even the planet… now what?
Implementing a gratitude practice doesn’t require more than a few spare moments of your time. Depending on how committed you are to setting these pathways in place, there are dozens of ways for you to start. Here are a few of our favorites:
Gratitude Journal: we’ve already discussed the role of journaling and mental health. Use the 5-rule list of 5 things you’re grateful for at the start of every morning and review them before going to sleep OR journal for 5 minutes about the feeling of gratitude (i.e. what you’re grateful for, what it feels like to be grateful, what gratitude means to you).
Spoken Word: Make it a point every day to sincerely tell someone that you are grateful for them AND what you are grateful for. Practice speaking out loud to others your feelings of gratitude and see how this impacts not only your mental health but also your relationships.
Action and Attitude: Try to practice the attitude of gratitude in your daily life. Remind yourself (consciously – think sticky note!) when you wake up in the morning that you are grateful and practice showing that through your actions toward yourself and others. For example, cook dinner for your partner to show them that you are grateful for them, find joy in the small things throughout your day that often go unnoticed and express it out loud, take on a small project for the environment – perhaps collecting trash once per week to show your gratitude for the earth and your fellow humans who share it with you!
We are so grateful to have you as a part of our community – THANK YOU for being here!
Emmons, Robert A., and Patrick McNamara. "Sacred emotions and affective neuroscience: Gratitude, costly signaling, and the brain." Where God and science meet: How brain and evolutionary studies alter our understanding of religion 1 (2006): 11-31.
Emmons, R., and McCullough, M. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 84, 377–389. doi: 10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.117
McCullough, M. E., Kimeldorf, M. B., and Cohen, A. D. (2008). An adaptation for altruism the social causes, social effects, and social evolution of gratitude. Curr. Direct. Psychol. Sci. 17, 281–285. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2008.00590.x
Kober, H., Barrett, L. F., Joseph, J., Bliss-Moreau, E., Lindquist, K., and Wager, T. D. (2008). Functional grouping and cortical-subcortical interactions in emotion: a meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies. Neuroimage 42, 998–1031. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.03.059