Is it the happy people that are grateful, or the grateful people that are happy? Studies show that people who regularly practice gratitude tend to be more happy and less depressed.
Something as simple as taking the time to reflect on the things you’re thankful for, such as a good conversation or a reallyyyyy good cup of tea for example, actually has a profound impact on our mood and promotes positive emotions. Recent evidence also suggests that better sleep and stronger immune systems are too the result of being/acting grateful. And that, people who approach life with an ‘attitude of gratitude’ purposefully, have higher self-esteem than those who don’t.
So, why are there so many benefits and positive effects? What’s the science behind it?
Gratitude actually rewires our brains, kickstarting the production of dopamine and serotonin (happy hormones). Much like anti-depressants, these feel-good neurotransmitters activate the ‘bliss’ centre of the brain, creating feelings of happiness and contentment.
Researchers of positive psychology have found that gratitude and happiness are close emotional approximations of one another, and are always strongly correlated. And by focusing on the two together, we find out more about ourselves I.e about our behavioural tendencies as well as our emotional well-being for example, than if we were to study the standard definition of each alone. The theory behind this stems from the idea that gratitude naturally moves people to experience more positive emotions, to thoroughly enjoy the good experiences, to better their health, to face adversity and to develop and maintain strong relationships. Which in turn, makes us happier.
But how do we practice feeling grateful, where do we start?
Well, masters of the art say to sit down and think of 5-10 things you’re grateful for. The trick is that you need to picture whatever it is you’re grateful for in your mind. Next, Sit with that feeling of gratitude in your body. Doing this every day is said to rewire the brain to be naturally more grateful, resulting in a shift of happiness after each session. Acts of gratitude can be as simple as celebrating minor accomplishments, thinking of everything you already have as opposed to dwelling on what you don’t, telling the people in your life that you appreciate them, volunteering, being polite and friendly to strangers – you get the gist. It’s said that it takes around 8 weeks of practice for people to start showing changed brain patterns, that lead to increased levels of happiness and empathy, better physical health and greater resiliency towards life stressors. Together with, decreased levels of materialism (personal fave). And this is achieved by training the prefrontal cortex to better appreciate and retain positive experiences and thoughts (and to deflect the negative ones). Fun fact – very similar positive brain changes occur from regular meditation and mindfulness (practices which have proven insanely popular among more spiritual religions/individuals for centuries).
As you’re probably aware, having the ability and the power to alter and adjust our mindsets and ways of thinking is something I believe in 1000%. A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post named “spirituality and balancing emotions” if anyone fancies the read. In that post I wrote about the Dalai Lama, and how he firmly believes that happiness can be achieved by systematic training of the mind.
When I wrote the title of this post I was a tad dubious as to whether it was appropriate, given the nature of everything that’s going on in the world rn. I don’t want to appear callous to be writing a post about gratefulness in the midst of such weird and unprecedented times. I’m very much aware of the scary and corrupt times we’re all currently facing. However I am confident that choosing to focus how sickeningly fortunate we are in every other aspect of life, really can (and will) make us more happy and will make our minds a nicer place to reside. And that’s not me saying that we have to be grateful for everythingggg all of the time, obviously not. We’re not grateful for violence, war, oppression, exploitation, bereavement etc. I know. But we can be grateful in the vast majority of given moments as with each moment lies some form of opportunity to better our current circumstances.
Most moments that are given to us (given because we’re not owed them) are opportunities to enjoy, but we often miss these as we’re all too busy rushing through life without stopping to see these opportunities for what they really are. I’m not sure if that makes sense but it does in my head lol. I’d love to hear some thoughts and/or experiences on this one x