By consciously practicing gratitude every day, we can help our immune system, our central nervous system, pain response, sleep, even our memory and cognitive function. The effects of gratitude, when practiced daily, can be almost the same as medications in strengthening neural pathways.
Here’s what happens when we express gratitude:
Feelings of gratitude activate the hippocampus and amygdala, the two main sites regulating emotions, memory, and bodily functioning. Gratitude significantly impacts psychological conditions like stress, anxiety, and depression by producing a feeling of long-lasting happiness and contentment. The physiological basis for this lies at the neurotransmitter level. As we feel grateful, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, thereby enhancing our mood immediately.
By regulating the level of dopamine, gratitude can reduce subjective feelings of pain. A study conducted to evaluate the effects of gratitude on physical wellbeing, Counting Blessings vs Burdens (Emmons & McCullough, 2003), indicated that 16% of the patients who kept a gratitude journal reported reduced pain symptoms and were more willing to exercise and cooperate with the treatment procedure.
Studies also show that gratitude practices significantly reduce cardiac diseases, inflammations, and neurodegeneration.
A study by Zahn, et al., (2009) stated: “A brain filled with gratitude and kindness is more likely to sleep better and wake up feeling refreshed and energetic every morning.” Improving the sleep-wake cycle and enhanced mood helps people with insomnia, substance abuse, and eating disorders.
Gratitude practices are especially effective for treating phobias like death anxiety, PTSD, social phobia, and nihilism. The brain doesn’t know the difference between reality and thought. For example, jumping out of an airplane is the greatest thrill to some, but to others the idea of even getting into an airplane triggers a physiological fear reaction. The person hasn’t even left the runway, yet their heart beats faster, lungs breathe more heavily, and blood rushes from the digestive tract to the extremities in order to fight or take flight. From a neurobiological standpoint, gratitude regulates the sympathetic nervous system that activates our fight-or-flight responses, countering our fear response and producing a calming effect; and at the psychological level…