A cliché? Or something risqué? Is it really worth my time? When in doubt, my strategy is always to search it out!
Scientific studies suggest that gratitude can improve your sleep, enhance your romantic relationships, protect you from illness, motivate you to exercise, and boost your happiness, among many other benefits.
As a neuro sleuth, I delved into the neurobiology of gratitude with a specific question in mind: Can our brain activity reveal how gratitude achieves its significant benefits?
I stumbled upon a groundbreaking study by Glenn Fox, Ph.D., who monitored brain activity while subjects experienced gratitude. (Fox heads the program design, strategy, and outreach at USC Performance Science Institute)
Fox watched numerous hours of videotapes from the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History, housing videotaped Holocaust survivor testimonies—many surprisingly filled with breathtaking acts of selflessness and generosity. He curated these stories into scenarios rephrased in the second person and shared them with study participants.
Participants imagined themselves in these scenarios, feeling as they would if in the same situation. Their brain activity was monitored using modern imaging techniques (such as fMRI) as they reflected on these scenarios.
While this method wouldn't evoke the exact feelings as living through those situations, participants overwhelmingly reported strong feelings of gratitude, deep engagement in the task, and, importantly, increased empathy for and understanding of the Holocaust.
Results revealed that when participants reported feelings of gratitude, their brains exhibited activity in regions associated with understanding others' perspectives, empathy, and feelings of relief. These brain regions are interconnected with systems regulating emotion, stress relief, and basic emotional regulation, possibly explaining how gratitude leads to health benefits over time.
Furthermore, studies suggest that gratitude activates neural networks associated with emotional intelligence, pleasure from socializing, and basic emotional regulation. These networks are linked to stress relief and pain reduction, even connecting to the brain's networks activated during interpersonal touch.
In essence, gratitude activates brain networks tied to social bonding and stress relief, potentially elucidating how feelings of gratitude lead to health benefits.
Moreover, researcher Prathik Kini and colleagues at Indiana University found evidence that practicing gratitude can cause structural changes in the brain, similar to the activity observed in the Fox experiment. This discovery suggests that gratitude could physically alter brain structures.
Such findings suggest that the mental practice of gratitude might rewire the brain.
Gratitude’s potential to alleviate suffering doesn't hinge on thinking happy thoughts or denying reality. Instead, its benefits likely stem from fostering unity, raising awareness of possessions, and inspiring acknowledgment and propagation of human goodness.
Consider counting your blessings, especially around Thanksgiving. Choosing this perspective amid dark times has cultivated incredible resilience for me, allowing me to see beauty despite looming darkness. Embracing the full spectrum of emotions doesn't exclude darkness; rather, it opens our eyes to the entire picture.
We often focus on what we “lack,” expending our energy pursuing those things. Imagine how shifting our attention to appreciate the people and positives in our lives can change our perspective and amplify our happiness quotient.
If you still doubt it, revisit this text and explore the original research links. It's undeniable that prioritizing gratitude is time well spent.
Life is short, yet it’s as good as we make it.
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.” - John F. Kennedy Written by FitPros Speaker, Neeli Clute Connect with us for engaging talks and team-building exercises centered around this transformative topic! Let's cultivate a culture of gratitude together—reach out to us now!