Barbara Mayfield, MS, RD, LD, FAND
Did you know gratitude is good for you? Let me count the ways.
Updated: Dec 2, 2022
Do you feel grateful? Do you say thank you or write notes of appreciation? Are you characterized by an “attitude of gratitude”?
In the first post in our gratitude series, What is gratitude? we explored how we can feel, express, and embody gratitude in our lives.
Does having grateful feelings, expressing them, and making gratitude a way of life make a difference?
Yes. A big difference. Bigger than you might have thought.
Gratitude is good for you. Let me count the ways.
The benefits of gratitude to our physical and psychological well-being are numerous. The following list comes from a variety of studies on the impact of gratitude on our health and well-being:
Gratitude leads to improved or greater levels of…
Focus and alertness
Gratitude leads to a decrease in or lower levels of…
Signs of burnout
Body aches and pains
Signs of heart disease
Wow! That’s impressive. How can we know gratitude leads to these positive results?
The impact of gratitude can be measured.
Studying gratitude requires researchers to measure both the degree of gratitude and its impact. Methods for measuring gratitude are described in The Science of Gratitude White Paper and include various tools, questionnaires, scales, and tests.
For example, on a 7-point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree, subjects rate statements such as “I have so much in life to be thankful for.”
Similarly, the impact of gratitude is measured in a variety of ways. These include blood tests, measuring heart rate, quantifying sleep duration, tracking other behaviors, assessments of mental health, brain scans, and more. Let’s look at a couple of examples for illustration.
Measuring the impact of gratitude on the brain
Brain scans show that experiencing gratitude activates regions of the brain responsible for regulating emotion. Negative emotions like anxiety or depression are replaced by positive emotions. The brain cannot simultaneously focus on positive and negative emotions.
When we experience gratitude, the brain releases two neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin, which enhance our mood and produce pleasurable emotions. Additionally, gratitude leads to a reduction in the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. Gratitude is therefore considered a natural antidepressant.
When practiced regularly and with intention, gratitude strengthens these neural pathways and leads to a more stable and permanent temperament characterized by gratitude.
Measuring the impact of gratitude on mental health
Gratitude is considered a potential adjunct to psychotherapy for the treatment of mental illness. A randomized controlled trial compared psychotherapy used alone with therapy combined with either expressive writing or gratitude writing. Participants in the gratitude group reported significantly improved mental health compared with the other groups.
In upcoming blogs, we will look specifically at how gratitude can enhance our personal relationships and professional lives and then how to practice gratitude in practical ways.
Take note of how you experience gratitude and any of the positive results listed above. Have you seen these benefits in your life?
“Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness. It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul.” ~ Amy Collette
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