Gratitude, it turns out, makes you happier and healthier. If you invest in a way of seeing the world that is mean and frustrated, you’re going to get a world that is more mean and frustrating. But if you can find any authentic reason to give thanks… anything at all that you’re grateful for in your life or in the world and put your attention there, an overwhelming body of research indicates you’re going to experience more joy, vitality, and inner peace.
Gratitude doesn’t just make things feel better – it also makes them getbetter. According to recent research, gratitude is good for your physical, emotional, and mental health. People who express more gratitude have fewer aches and pains, better sleep, and stronger mental clarity.
If Thankfulness Were A Drug…
“If [thankfulness] were a drug,” Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, head of the division of biologic psychology at Duke University Medical Center, tells us: “it would be the world’s best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system.”
As Dr. Doraiswamy explains, studies have shown how the expression of gratitude leads to measurable effects on multiple body and brain systems.
- Mood neurotransmitters (serotonin, norepinephrine)
- Reproductive hormones (testosterone)
- Social bonding hormones (oxytocin)
- Cognitive and pleasure related neurotransmitters (dopamine)
- Inflammatory and immune systems (cytokines)
- Stress hormones (cortisol)
- Cardiac and EEG rhythms
- Blood pressure, and
- Blood sugar
What’s The Brain Science Behind All This?
Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson puts it this way: “The neurons that fire together, wire together… The longer the neurons [brain cells] fire, the more of them that fire, and the more intensely they fire, the more they’re going to wire that inner strength –- that happiness, gratitude, feeling confident, feeling successful, feeling loved and lovable.”
And what’s going on in the brain leads to changes in behavior. Grateful people tend to take better care of themselves and to engage in more protective health behaviors, like regular exercise and a healthy diet. They’re also found to have lower levels of stress. And lowered levels of stress are linked to increased immune function and to decreased rates of cancer and heart disease.
So it seems, you take better care of what you appreciate. And that extends to your body, and also to the people around you.