Next to Mindfulness, “Gratitude Practices” seem to get a lot of attention both in and out of the boardroom, and for good reason! There is actual scientific evidence that proves how gratitude can change your brain, make you happier, boost your immune system, improve your relationships, and make you more productive.
According to UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center, regularly expressing gratitude (the quality of being thankful and readiness to show appreciation) literally changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeps the gray matter functioning, and makes us healthier and happier. In 2008, scientists first used fMRI to study gratitude. In the study the researchers measured brain activity of participants experiencing different emotions, and found that gratitude causes synchronized activation in multiple brain regions, and lights up parts of the brain’s reward pathways and the hypothalamus. In short, just like Prozac, gratitude can boost neurotransmitter serotonin and activate the brain stem to produce dopamine.
In 2009, NIH Researchers (National Institute of Health found that subjects who showed more gratitude overall had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus. This is important because the hypothalamus controls a huge array of essential bodily functions, including eating, drinking and sleeping. It also has a huge influence on your metabolism and stress levels. From this evidence on brain activity it starts to become clear how improvements in gratitude could have such wide-ranging effects, from increased exercise and improved sleep to decreased depression and fewer aches and pains.
What’s really interesting is according to Dr. Alex Korb in his book Upward Spiral, the act of “seeking” the items to be grateful for has as much if not more benefit than the item you are actually grateful for. Dr. Korb states:
“Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.”
Basically, just thinking about how you could be grateful sparks brain activity critical to sleep, mood regulation and metabolism. Next time something bad happens and you can’t think of anything to be grateful for, guess what? Just the act of searching for gratitude is beneficial.
The practice of gratitude increases your dopamine production which encourages your brain to seek our more of the same. It’s the brain saying, “Oh, do that again” which means the more you are grateful for, the more you will find to be grateful for. Some say “what you appreciate, appreciates.” On a scientific level, this is an example of Hebb’s Law, which states “neurons that fire together wire together.”
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Originally published at carriedclarke.com