The Physiology of Gratitude - How to Use The Most Powerful Human Emotion to Improve Your Mind, Body, and Soul
By: Erika Fehrenbach Prell
November is the month of gratitude and gratefulness. You hear it everywhere, perhaps ad nauseum, to be grateful for all you have and to practice gratitude. (Like how I threw a little Latin into the mix? Feeling fancy today!) And, the constant barrage of this important message might actually do the opposite; anyone else tune out when you hear the same thing over and over? Gratitude is too important to tune out my friends, and it should really be something that you practice all year round, not just in November when Thanksgiving shows up on the calendar.
Like many of you, I have heard the claims that gratitude is amazing for your health. But, I also happen to be a bit of a skeptic; call it my science nerd side but show me the evidence! So, I did a bit of research, and it was probably the easiest evidence-based search I have ever done. My browser lit up like the sky on Fourth of July with studies about how practicing gratitude can improve your health from every aspect, not only your body but also your mind and soul. And, get this! Studies consistently show that the positive effects of gratitude are experienced by both the giver AND the receiver equally! Gratitude is hands down the most powerful human emotion, and it is so easy to tap into it.
It’s in our nature, no matter how selfless you are, to want to know what’s in it for me; what will I get from this practicing gratitude thing to make it worth the effort. There is no shame in that game, friends, it’s just how we are wired; if something isn’t worth it, we won’t do it. Here are just a few of the many ways gratitude can improve your health:
And, as I already said, showing your gratitude to other people in your life allows them to experience the same benefits! There is no other human emotion that has this profound personal effect and is also so easy to pass along to other people.
How does gratitude work exactly? When you experience gratitude, the part of your brain referred to as the “bliss center” releases two powerful chemicals in your system, dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine and serotonin are responsible for making you feel happy; when someone is experiencing clinical depression and anxiety, these hormones are depleted and medications designed for these medical conditions help increase the levels of dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine and serotonin decrease stress by keeping you out of the fight or flight response and keeping the stress hormone, cortisol, from over-releasing. Brain studies have shown that practicing gratitude consistently increases the gray matter of your brain in the “bliss center”; you literally grow more brain cells in the positive center of your brain. You increase the wiring and firing of that area and can restructure your brain to think more positively, just by being grateful. How cool is that???
With all these positive benefits of gratitude, practicing gratitude is a #nobrainer. Here’s a secret, it is the easiest habit to start with the reward being instantaneous. As you practice gratitude consistently, the benefits compound. Here are 5 ideas to start practicing gratitude in your life taken from an article titled “The Neuroscience of Gratitude: How It Affects Anxiety and Grief” by Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury from PositivePsychology.com:
As always, shine on, friends!
Erika Fehrenbach Prell is passionate about inspiring and educating, others on their path to complete wellness-mind,body, and soul. This desire led Erika to the helping profession of nursing, and she obtained her Master's Degree as a Nurse Practitioner in 2007. Erika specialized in cardiac surgery, largely influenced by her personal experience with heart disease. While she loved working with this population, her heart's desire has always been to impact lives on a larger scale and from a proactive, not reactive, place. The universe answered when her path crossed with Jackie and SoulShine was born. Erika finally feels she is walking in her purpose and is excited for this journey to unfold.