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New: The Science Behind Gratitude

Posted on Nov 21, 2018


As most of us in the 21st century know, life can be very stressful. Right now, you might feel anxious about the growing number of emails you need to respond to or the fact that you still haven’t booked those holiday flights. Or, perhaps you’re worried about longer-term issues, such as credit card debt or job security.

As Thanksgiving and other holidays approach, it’s especially easy to get caught up in spending money and cramming as many social events into your schedule as possible. However, the answer to these stressors may be simpler than you think. According to a recent Quartz article by Bulletproof Coffee CEO Dave Asprey, “the real power of gratitude is turning off a very unproductive emotion: fear.” Countless studies have shown that gratitude works at the cellular level to significantly decrease stress. So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, here’s how gratitude can ease stress, boost your health, and increase joy.

1. Decreases fear.

According to Quartz, “when you live in a state of fear—such as in the fight or flight mode—the brain secretes two steroid hormones: cortisol and adrenaline.”

The National Institute of Health recently conducted a study in which MRIs showed that participants who focused on what they were thankful for experienced more blood flow to the hypothalamus, which is the part of your brain that controls stress and sleep. This increased hypothalamus activity also decreases cortisol, which increases heart rate and blood pressure. So, in other words, gratitude can soothe and even prevent depression, anxiety, and fear.

2. Boosts the immune system.

Practicing gratitude also activates the vagal nerve, which is the nerve responsible for relaxation, decreased inflammation, and a healthy immune system. Poor vagus nerve activity can lead to anxiety. Once again, practicing gratitude increases activity around this nerve, which helps us deal with stress in healthier ways.

3. Increases other positive emotions.

A Harvard study found that people who practice gratitude regularly not only more easily channel other positive emotions like joy, comfort, and pleasure, but also better relish happy experiences.

In another study, researchers found that participants who kept gratitude journals felt 10% happier than participants who did not, “which is the same boost to happiness you’d get from doubling your income.”

4. Builds resilience.

The American Psychological Association reports that those who practice gratitude seem to better handle challenging situations. In fact, Olympic athletes include gratitude practices and positive thinking into their training, which increases their ability to focus.

5. Improves sleep.

Again, feeling grateful stimulates the hypothalamus, which leads to better sleep. In another study, participants who practiced gratitude journaling reported that their sleep quality improved by 25%.

So, where to start? A study from Indiana University suggests that even small daily activities, like keeping a gratitude journal or sharing your gratitude with friends and family, can make you feel better. Some people take gratitude walks, where they practice being present and feel gratitude for the beauty out in the world. Quartz recommends sitting down before bed tonight and writing down just three things you feel grateful for. It’s that simple.

Here are my three gratitudes: making it to the climbing gym with my partner yesterday, freshly baked pumpkin bread with butter this morning, and my dog snuggling up to me as I write this post.

What are you grateful for this year? Feel free to reach out to Pickett Street at info@pickettstreet.com or 425-502-5397 to share your gratitudes and other thoughts. And have a joyful Thanksgiving.

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