With that said, this month, we'll explore exactly how this is possible. Between the science behind gratitude, mental and emotional benefits, physical benefits, and even ways you can start to practice gratitude more in your daily life, we're going to cover it all! Let's start this week by looking at how practicing appreciation can impact our brains and help us feel good.
Neuroscientists have found ways to study hormonal responses and areas of the brain, which are stimulated by an act of gratitude. This information has allowed us to understand the psychological and emotional benefits of practicing gratitude - something which before may have seemed slightly intangible.
Oxytocin is nicknamed the 'happiness hormone' because of its association and release during sensations of happiness or intense satisfaction. It's produced by the hypothalamus and secreted by the pituitary gland, and also plays a crucial role in the childbirth process and helps with male reproduction
Completing an act of gratitude is one of the more natural ways this is released. Another great thing to note about oxytocin is that it directly counteracts the 'fight or flight' hormone, affecting and reducing stress levels!
The very nature of neuron-responses in the brain means that it is through repetition and familiarity that the patterns associated with gratitude and oxytocin release become strengthened, forging lasting pathways for its transmission. As such, this enables us to have a more reliable baseline supply of oxytocin (or any behaviorally associated hormone), which, over time, causes a gradual increase in overall contentment and happiness.
Another "feel good" chemical which the brain releases during acts of gratitude is Dopamine. Dopamine turns on our brain's learning centers and allows us to feel more energized, motivated, and content with our present situation. This, in turn, leads to heightened levels of concentration, which causes higher levels of productivity and thus increases overall work-related success and happiness.
Dopamine is also considered the most important chemical reaction in the body when it comes to initiating action. That means increases in dopamine levels occur when a surge of adrenaline makes you take action for the first time on a long-planned project. It's what makes you more likely to get up and DO things. It's the brain saying, "Oh, do that again."
Are you starting to see how it's all interlinked?
Additionally, a recent study found that in the moments before falling asleep, grateful people are less likely to think negative and worrying thoughts, and more likely to think positive thoughts. The impact this has on overall quality and duration of sleep (and subsequent energy levels the following day) is significant, as negative thoughts are linked to disturbed sleep, dreams, and even lowered physical functioning and cortisol production during 'sleep time.'
It's also important to consider 'energy' in terms of more than just how active we are daily. Everything we are and do is energy - we manipulate this depending on what we want to achieve, where we are, and how we want to interact with people. Gratitude maximizes the value of our energy, and so it can often produce an uplifting effect. Considering how we spend and use, our energy is important if we are to assess ways to put it to better use through expressing gratitude and thanks.
Where do you use most of your energy?
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Dr. Toni is a Best-selling author, Holistic Health Practitioner (HHP) & Registered Herbalist in San Diego, California. She holds a PhD in psychology, and a Clinical Herbalist Certificate, an HHP certificate and is a Certified Trainer in the Success Principles. In private practice as a HHP she has been influenced by a variety of clinical modalities and orientations, and by the diverse life experiences of her clients. Toni’s approach to healing is holistic & transpersonal. In her work, she integrates the principles of Eastern and Western nutrition, herbololgy, energy medicine, Buddhist mindfulness and personal counseling to assist others in working through their physical or emotional blocks to attain optimal health.