Researchers showed that an attitude of gratitude alters the molecular structure of the brain, making us healthier and happier. Studies also suggest that in the case of positive emotions, the signals the heart sends to the brain are different and lead to numerous benefits.
During these challenging times, when we are preoccupated with our daily tasks, stress, and uncertainty, we often take things for granted, complain, and forget the real reasons why we should be happy and grateful in life.
Unfortunately, it is only when we hear stories about people who pray for the things we already have that we realize that we have been blessed and should be thankful for it.
This world we live in is full of competition and consumerism and often focused on wanting and striving for more, so it is not easy to experience actual happiness.
Yet, we should all remember that happiness is an inside job and does not depend on external factors.
This is something numerous scientists suggest, and researchers of UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center have pointed it out:
“Having an attitude of gratitude changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeps gray matter functioning and makes us healthier and happier. When you feel happiness, the central nervous system is affected. You are more peaceful, less reactive, and less resistant. Now that’s a really cool way of taking care of your well-being.”
Numerous studies confirm that grateful people are much happier and less depressed than others.
One study, conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, involved almost 300 people with mental health difficulties, including people suffering from anxiety and depression, divided into three groups. All participants received counseling services.
Yet, the first group was asked to write one letter of gratitude to another person every week for three weeks, the second group was asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences, and the last one was not instructed to do any writing.
Researchers found that people from the first group reported dramatically better mental health for up to 12 weeks after the study, compared to the ones from the second group.
They concluded that “gratitude writing can be beneficial not just for healthy, well-adjusted individuals, but also for those who struggle with mental health concerns,” so “practicing gratitude on top of receiving psychological counseling carries greater benefits than counseling alone, even when that gratitude practice is brief. “
Previously, Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis, and his colleague Mike McCullough at the University of Miami conducted another study on gratitude.
Participants received one of three tasks, and each week they kept a short journal.
The first group wrote about five things that occurred in the past week and they were grateful for, the second group wrote about unpleasant daily troubles from the previous week, and the last group should have written about five events that have somehow affected them, negatively or positively.
After ten weeks, participants from the first group felt better about their lives as a whole and were a full 25 percent happier than the troubled group, had fewer health issues, and exercised an average of 1.5 hours more.
Researchers from Berkeley researchers identified the ways gratitude might affect the body and mind:
- Gratitude releases the toxic emotions
- Gratitude has lasting effects on the brain
- Gratitude is helpful, even if it is not shared
- The benefits of gratitude might not be felt immediately, as it requires time and patience
The team wanted to make a distinction between gratitude- driven actions, and actions motivated by guilt, obligation, or other people’s opinions. Therefore, they used an MRI scanner to measure brain activity while people from each group did a “pay it forward” task.
Participants were given money by a “nice person”, who told them they can pass it to someone if they felt grateful.
Gratitude has to be honestly felt, otherwise, it might not lead to happiness and joy.
Then, participants had to rate how grateful they felt in general, to measure the extent of gratitude they felt toward the person giving them the money, how much they wanted to pay it forward to a charitable cause, and how guilty they thought they would feel if they didn’t help someone else.
Here are their findings:
“We found that across the participants when people felt more grateful, their brain activity was distinct from brain activity related to guilt and the desire to help a cause. More specifically, we found that when people who are generally more grateful gave more money to a cause, they showed greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning and decision making. This suggests that people who are more grateful are also more attentive to how they express gratitude.
Most interestingly, when we compared those who wrote the gratitude letters with those who didn’t, the gratitude letter writers showed greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex when they experienced gratitude in the fMRI scanner.
This is striking as this effect was found three months after the letter writing began. This indicates that simply expressing gratitude may have lasting effects on the brain. While not conclusive, this finding suggests that practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, and this could contribute to improved mental health over time.”
Furthermore, one recent study found a brain network that “gives rise to feelings of gratitude”.
Yet, scientists are now suggesting that the heart also responds to these feelings, and it might actually be the one that sends these signals to the brain.
Therefore, a team of internationally recognized leaders in various disciplines, including physics, biophysics, astrophysics, education, mathematics, engineering, cardiology, biofeedback, and psychology, are investigating the matter at the Institute of HeartMath.
Their work has discovered that the heart beats a different message when a person feels positive emotions like love, appreciation, and gratitude, and this in turn affects the signals sent to the brain.
Rolin McCratey, Ph.D., and Director of Research at Heartmath explains that “by learning to shift our emotions, we are changing the information coded into the magnetic fields that are radiated by the heart, and that can impact those around us. “
The Institute also maintains that when the heart is coherent, that is, when it is experiencing “stable, sine-wavelike pattern in its rhythms”, the body “ begins to experience all sorts of benefits, among them are greater mental clarity and ability, including better decision making.”
The signals sent by the heart dramatically affect the function of the brain, according to McCratey:
“Research findings have shown that as we practice heart coherence and radiate love and compassion, our heart generates a coherent electromagnetic wave into the local field environment that facilitates social coherence, whether in the home, workplace, classroom, or sitting around a table.
As more individuals radiate heart coherence, it builds an energetic field that makes it easier for others to connect with their heart. So, theoretically, it is possible that enough people building individual and social coherence could actually contribute to an unfolding global coherence. “
Their research has identified four ways in which the heart communicates with the body and brain: neurological communication (nervous system), biophysical communication (pulse wave), biochemical communication (hormones), and energetic communication (electromagnetic fields).
Researchers maintain that our cognitive and emotional function is differently impacted by different patterns of the heart activity, so while the rhythm of the heart during stress and negative emotions is erratic and disordered, and these signals limit our abilities to think clearly, remember, learn, reason, and make effective decisions a more ordered and stable pattern of the heart “facilitates cognitive function and reinforces positive feelings and emotional stability.”
Dr. Deborah Rozman, the President of Quantum Intech, claims:
“Every individual’s energy affects the collective field environment. This means each person’s emotions and intentions generate an energy that affects the field. A first step in diffusing societal stress in the global field is for each of us to take personal responsibility for our own energies.
We can do this by increasing our personal coherence and raising our vibratory rate, which helps us become more conscious of the thoughts, feelings, and attitudes that we are feeding the field each day. We have a choice in every moment to take to heart the significance of intentionally managing our energies. This is the free will or local freedom that can create global cohesion. “
The findings of these studies indicate that if we learn to change his outer world through gratitude, compassion, and empathy, we can change the outer world for the better. Our consciousness can fully transform the physical world, even though we don’t fully understand the ways.
Back in the 1980s, during the Israel-Lebanon war, two Harvard University professors organized groups of experienced meditators in Jerusalem, Yugoslavia, and the United States.
They instructed them to focus on the area of conflict at various intervals over 27 months. Each time a meditating group was in place, the violence levels dropped between 40 and 80 percent.
Each day, the average number of people killed during the war decreased from 12 to three, and war-related injuries fell by 70 percent.
Similarly, in 1993 in Washington, D.C., the work of 2,500 meditators helped to decrease crime rates by 25%. Scientists are working hard to investigate the ways we can improve the world we live in with the help of positive feelings.
Yet, the first step towards a better future and a better world is to start small- with yourself. Practice gratitude every day and the benefits you will feel will convince you of its transformative power.