Now that Thanksgiving is over, you might be tempted to shelve the idea of gratitude until next year. However, according to several interesting research studies, it’s worth practicing gratitude on the regular. Want to know the details? Read on!
Gratitude Increases Positive Qualities Like Determinism And Enthusiasm
In a series of experiments, scientists Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough, out of the University of California, Davis, and the University of Miami, respectively, tested the effects that practicing gratitude has on the feelings and behaviors of participants.
In one study, participants were divided into three groups. Each group was told to keep a journal for 10 weeks. The first group was instructed to write down things that they were grateful for (e.g. sunsets, life, friendships, etc.). The second group was told to write down daily hassles, like traffic, being late, or spilled coffee. The third group was told only to write down events, which could be either positive or negative, and this group was used as the control group.
At the end of the 10 weeks, the group that had focused on gratitude was 25% happier than the other two groups, did an average of 1.5 more hours of exercise than the others, and showed increased optimism. Those are great results for relatively little effort!
Gratitude For What You Have Does Not Come From Comparing Yourself To Others
To determine whether the results of the last study came from practicing gratitude specifically, or, simply comparing oneself with someone less fortunate, the researchers altered the control conditions by asking people in that group to write down ways in which they were better off than others. Not surprisingly, this didn’t make them happy. Anyone who’s ever been told to think about how her problems aren’t as bad as her Aunt Betty’s can attest to that!
Gratitude Can Have A Positive Effect On Physical Health
Emmons and McCullough took some heat after those first two studies, because they were conducted on undergraduate college students, who, some might say, have everything going for them. To conquer those criticisms, the pair did their third study on adults who had neuromuscular disorders, often as a result of surviving polio. Even with this hardship, practicing gratitude had wonderful results, including increasing optimism, and improved sleep.
Practicing Gratitude Can Lower Depression
Chinese researchers, (Ng., et al, 2012) found that people who showed more gratuitous attitudes had lower levels of depression and anxiety than people who did not. However, while practicing gratitude has a direct effect on lowering depression, it has an indirect effect on lowering anxiety, by way of improving sleep. Either way, it works!
Gratitude Is Associated With More Activity In The Hypothalamus And Increased Dopamine
If these studies have you wondering how, exactly, gratitude affects the brain, you aren’t alone! Researchers at the National Institutes of Health looked at blood flow in different regions of the brain while participants practiced feelings of gratitude. What they found was that the hypothalamus (the area of the brain responsible for everything from eating, drinking, sleeping, metabolism, stress levels, and the kitchen sink), is more active during periods of gratitude. This explains how gratitude can offer a positive impact on so many different areas of life.
Finally, increased gratitude is related to higher levels of dopamine in the brain, which, scientifically speaking, means It Feels Good!
Hopefully, we’ve convinced you to keep your gratitude going after Thanksgiving this year. If you’d like to learn some easy ways to do that, contact us! We are here to help!