Gratitude Expert: Lori Saitz
Expressing gratitude for people, things, and circumstances in your life is a nice thing to do. And you feel like a good person when you do it. You probably already know that.
But did you know there’s actually science and research to support WHY gratitude is a good idea? There’s no doubt gratitude affects your mental health and your physical health. When you’re feeling sad or depressed or angry, if you change your thoughts to something you’re grateful for, it’s like flipping a switch. Instantly, you have a different perspective and a different outlook. Gratitude has been discussed as an important element in our wellbeing all the way back to the Roman empire. Cicero mentioned gratitude as “the mother of all human feelings.” There’s been more research than ever in the past 20-25 years to actually prove how gratitude works.
“The good news is, even if you are not naturally grateful, you can still benefit from the effects of gratitude. “
What Happens To Your Brain When It’s High On Gratitude:
The reason some of us are naturally more grateful than others is due to neurochemical differences in the central nervous system. People who express and feel gratitude regularly have brains with a higher volume of gray matter.
The good news is, even if you are not naturally grateful, you can still benefit from the effects of gratitude. You can consciously add it to your day, like increasing your vegetable intake at dinner.
In fact, when you practice gratitude daily, you will see almost the same effect as if you were taking medications that boost your brain chemistry. (I’m not a doctor, so I’m not saying go off your medications if you’re on them.)
Benefits Of High-Gratitude:
“Ultimately, you’re rewiring your brain to make new connections.”
The reason is that on a physiological basis, at the neurotransmitter level, gratitude produces a feeling of long-lasting happiness and contentment. No matter if you’re expressing gratitude or receiving gratitude, your brain releases dopamine and serotonin. These are two critical neurotransmitters responsible for your emotions. They’re the ones that make you feel good. They instantly enhance your mood and can make you feel happy. When you’re consciously practicing gratitude every day, you’re changing the neural structures in your brain and strengthening those neural pathways. Weight training for your brain!
Ultimately, you’re rewiring your brain to make new connections. It’s this new way of wiring and firing that leads to a permanently grateful and positive outlook. You can consciously change how your brain is wired! You’re restructuring your brain and teaching it to naturally produce more dopamine and more serotonin. That’s pretty incredible!
What Else Can Gratitude Do For Your Body?
Gratitude has been shown to help reduce physical pain. Researchers attribute this, again, to the release of dopamine. Plus, the mind can only hold one thought at a time. When you’re focusing on something positive and thinking thoughts of gratitude, you aren’t thinking as much about your pain.
Gratitude can improve your sleep quality because it activates the hypothalamus, which is a key center for sleep regulation. Additionally, you’ll fall asleep faster and sleep for longer durations.
Gratitude reduces the stress hormone cortisol. Less cortisol coursing through your veins means your heart functions better and you become more resilient to emotional setbacks and negative experiences. You handle stress more effectively. You don’t allow frustration, resentment, and regret to get the best of you. Sure, you may still be mildly annoyed by your partner’s inability to load the dishwasher correctly, but you won’t be as likely to want to throw a dirty dish at his head.
Your Attitude Affects Your Immune System:
“Fear, pessimism, and negative emotions weaken your immune system”
Another way gratitude improves your health is by increasing the strength of your immune system. Fear, pessimism, and negative emotions weaken your immune system, while love, optimism, and positive emotions strengthen it. If there’s ever been a time to strengthen your immune system, it’s now!
In one study, Dr. Lisa Aspinwall, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, compared the immune systems of healthy, first-year law students under stress. She found that optimistic students maintained higher numbers of blood cells that protect the immune system, compared to their more negatively focused classmates. Even people with already compromised health can see major improvements in their outcomes by sustaining optimistic attitudes and a grateful outlook. It’s never too late to start getting benefits from gratitude.
See Yourself In It:
On top of all this, a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences showed grateful people take better care of themselves in the first place. They exercise more and seek help more often when they need it.
It’s astonishing how you can manipulate all these hormones and rewire these pathways in your brain, simply by acknowledging and appreciating the little things in life.
By activating these parts of your brain. You’re changing the way you see the world and the way you see yourself in it. Add a serving of gratitude to your daily collagen supplement and you’re good to go.
About the Author:
Lori Saitz loves sharing the power of gratitude and meditation with entrepreneurial professionals who hire her to help them boost business success and achieve life goals faster – without working harder. She is the CEO of Zen Rabbit, host of the podcast “FINE is a 4-Letter Word,” and a sought-after speaker. When she’s not working, you can find Lori in the weight room at the gym, because she also loves baking and eating. See more at the Zen Rabbit website and connect with her on LinkedIn.