The Science Of How Showing Gratitude Changes Your Brain & Makes You Happier
We’ve partnered with Praise to bring you this story about giving thanks ahead of World Gratitude Day on September 21.
It’s hard to believe, but gratitude existed before Ariana Grande released ‘thank u, next’.
The practice of giving thanks has been making us better people for centuries, laying low, distilling it’s magical happy-making powers under the guise of community spirit. It’s given us all a reason to get up and go to work each day; to build strong marriages and be nice to our friends and families.
What Ari knew when she sang “I’m so f****** grateful for my ex” is that there’s great power in stepping back and giving thanks to someone or something outside yourself. Thanks you have food to eat and a home to curl up in and electricity to keep you warm. Thanks your brain is still firing and snapping in millions of different directions like it should be. Thanks there’s plenty of people around you to love and write chart-topping hits about.
And, like Ariana Grande, scientists are so dazzled by the joy of giving thanks, they’ve dedicated hundreds and hundreds of studies to what it does to our brain. Ahead of World Gratitude Day on September 21, here’s a wrap up of what they’ve found.
It Transforms Your Body
Roald Dahl was onto something when he wrote, “If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely”.
Grateful thoughts truly have the power to change our bodies and appearance, as well as our brains. Studies have found that people who showed more gratitude in their everyday life had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus – the part of your brain that controls your eating, drinking and sleeping habits. In turn, this impacts your metabolism and stress levels.
Basically, being a more grateful person sets you up for a better nights’ sleep, decreased levels of depression, and encourages you to be more active.
It Makes You Less Toxic
Focusing on the positive things in our life – even if the negatives seem to heavily outweigh them – will make you significantly happier.
Researchers found a massive difference between a group of people who wrote down what they were thankful for each day and those who wrote down what annoyed them or what they felt neutral about. After a period of 10 weeks, those practicing gratefulness were “more optimistic and felt better about their lives”. They also exercised more and had fewer visits to the doctor, compared to the group who were asked to write down their frustrations.
A similar study, including university students with existing mental health problems, showed the same findings. “This suggests that gratitude letter writing produces better mental health by shifting one’s attention away from toxic emotions, such as resentment and envy,” the researchers of the study observed.
“When you write about how grateful you are to others and how much other people have blessed your life, it might become considerably harder for you to ruminate on your negative experiences.”
While we commonly want to vent about what annoys us to “get it off our chest”, research seems to indicate that this does more harm than good. Go figure.
It Strengthens Your Relationships
Appreciating your partner can be the difference between bae or break. Couples who say “thank you” to one another are happier in their relationships and more willing to communicate about potential issues, according to this study.
Researcher Allen Barton said that a grateful couple are more protected against life’s everyday stressors. “Gratitude can really help create an environment where negative events such as a financial hiccup or a work stress simply bounce off and don’t have the same negative effect,” he said.
Think of Coach and Tami Taylor from Friday Night Lights. They were constantly saying, “I appreciate that”, thanking one another for their respective chores, communicating at length about how they’re feeling – and they’re the happiest and most perfect fictional couple in the world!
It Can Boost Your Career
Being a grateful person makes you happy, and happiness is linked to more money, more career success, and more opportunities to collaborate with coworkers.
In this study on athletes, team members who were more grateful had higher self-esteem, which turned into higher self-confidence, which made them a better player.
Not to mention you’ll be nicer to be around. No one wants to grab coffee with that coworker who does nothing but moan.
Start to look on the bright side of life, thank your lucky stars for the opportunities you’re getting and the numbers in your bank account, and more good things will come. Thank u, next!
We’re celebrating World Gratitude Day and want to know how you give (and receive) thanks. Take the survey below:
(Lead image: Matheus Ferrero / Unsplash)