What Is Gratitude?
This might seem like a bit of a dumb question given the fact that we’re all here to talk about it, but ‘gratitude’ is a relatively easy concept to misunderstand.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘gratitude’ as: “The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”
Pretty straightforward, no?
Yes, it is.
The only place where confusion arises is when we develop contrasting understandings of what deserves or requires our gratitude.
The ability to express gratitude freely is something a significantly high level of people struggle with, and the unfortunate consequences of muddled belief systems and lack of personal expression has led to gratitude sinking further down on the list of relationship priorities.
With influencing factors including culture and upbringing (conditioned beliefs), life experiences, and core values, it’s understandable that the definition differs greatly from person to person.
It’s also easy to dismiss missed opportunities of expressing thanks or performing acts of kindness, since today’s world has unfortunately become almost too busy to assign much importance to them.
But gratitude IS important.
So important, in fact, that scientists now consider it more than just an ‘action’.
Gratitude is now considered by science as an actual positive emotion, the effects and impacts of which on overall mental and physical health have been studied much more closely than just ‘gratitude’ by itself.
The Science Of Gratitude
The many different understandings, definitions, and expressions of gratitude make it difficult to measure on a scientific scale.
Yet, neurosciences have discovered ways to measure levels of the hormonal response and areas of the brain which are stimulated by and during an act of gratitude.
This has allowed us a closer look at the psychological and emotional benefits of practicing gratitude – something which before may have seemed slightly intangible.
Oxytocin is nicknamed the ‘happiness hormone’ because of it’s released 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 childbirth and also helps with reproduction.
Yep you guessed it that’s why we have a smile on our face after sex.
Completing an act of gratitude is just one of the more casual ways this is released.
Another great thing to note about oxytocin is that it directly counteracts the ‘fight or flight’ hormone, directly affecting and reducing stress levels!
The very nature of neuron-responses in the brain means that it’s through repetition that the patterns associated with gratitude and oxytocin release become strengthened, forging lasting pathways for it’s transmission.
This enables us to have a more reliable baseline supply of oxytocin (or any behaviorally associated hormone), which, over time, causes the gradual increase in overall contentment and happiness.
Physical Response (Energy)
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 this increases overall work-related success and happiness.
Are you starting to see how it’s all linked together?
Our energy levels are directly linked to the amount and quality of the sleep we get, and so the impact of gratitude on sleep quality should be analyzed more closely.
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 of sleep and 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’.
Dopamine is also considered the most important chemical reaction in the body when it comes to being more active, as 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.”
It’s also important to consider ‘energy’ in terms of more than just how active we are on a daily basis.
Everything we are and do is energy – we simply 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?
It’s this boost of positive energy that might cause your small act of gratitude to multiply and transform into a more positive day.
A study on positive psychology observed how high states of coherence associated with sustained states of gratitude caused DNA strands to unwind and lengthen.
While, fear, anxiety, frustration, and stress caused DNA to tighten, become shorter, and switch off many of its codes.
As Penney Peirce asks in her book ‘Frequency, The Power of Personal Vibration’, might this cause ‘your DNA to evolve beyond disease and ageing as we know it?’
This a large assumption (that gratitude can make us immortal), and yet there is definitely some correspondence between lowered levels of disease and heightened energetic levels which Gratitude causes that could contribute to overall longevity.
I would like to introduce you to Alice Herz-Sommer
10 At age 108, Holocaust survivor Alice still practices piano for 3 hours every day.
At age 104, she had a book written about her life: “A Garden Of Eden In Hell.”
At age 83, she had cancer.
Alice survived the concentration camps through her music, her optimism and her gratitude for the small things that came her way – a smile, a kind word, the sun.
When asked about the secret of her longevity, Alice says: “I look where it is good.”
Gratitude has been shown to:
- Help you make friends. A study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek a more lasting relationship with you.
- Improve your physical health. People who show gratitude report fewer aches and pains, and general have good health.
- Improve your psychological health. Grateful people enjoy higher well-being and happiness and suffer from reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Enhance empathy and reduced aggressive behavior. Those who show their gratitude are less likely to seek revenge against others and more likely to behave with sensitivity and empathy.
- Improve your sleep. Practicing gratitude regularly can help you sleep longer and better.
- Enhance your self-esteem. People who are grateful have increased self-esteem, in part due to their ability to appreciate other people’s’ accomplishments.
- Increase in mental strength. Grateful people have an advantage in overcoming trauma and enhanced resilience, helping them to bounce back from highly stressful situations.
Having learned of all of these benefits to practicing gratitude, your next question is probably
“How do I do it?”
If so, you’re in luck!
There are so many ways to show our gratitude to others, to ourselves, and to a higher power or even the universe itself.
However, it can be tough to get started without practical suggestions and ideas.
These gratitude exercises and activities are some of the most well-known and proven ways to practice and enhance your gratitude.
Download my FREE e-book Growing Grateful, packed full of exercises and activities to help enhance your gratitude.Yes Please
This exercise may sound a little silly. You may be thinking, “A rock?
How can a rock help me practice gratitude?”
The secret to this exercise is that the rock is just a symbol, a physical object you can use to remind yourself of what you have.
The instructions are about as simple as instructions can be: just find a rock!
Make sure to pick one you like, whether you like it because it’s pretty, because it is smooth or has an interesting texture, or because you picked it up from a special place. If you have another small object you’d rather use instead, feel free to substitute that for the rock.
Carry this rock around in your pocket, leave it on your desk where you will see it throughout your day, or even wear it on a chain around your neck or your wrist.
Whenever you see it or touch it, pause to think about at least one thing you are grateful for. Whether it’s something as small as the sun shining down on you in this moment or as large as the job that allows you to feed yourself or your family, just think of one thing that brings you joy or fulfillment.
When you take the stone out of your pocket or off of your body at the end of the day, take a moment to remember the things that you were grateful for throughout the day.
When you put it on or in your pocket again in the morning, repeat this process to remember what you were grateful for yesterday.
Not only will this help you remember the things you are grateful for, it can also trigger a mini-mindfulness moment in your day.
It will bring you out of your head and into the present moment, giving you something to focus your attention on.
It can also act as a switch to more positive thinking. When you flip this switch multiple times a day, you will likely find that your average day has become much more positive.
The gratitude jar is a stunningly simple exercise that can have profound effects on your well-being and your outlook on life.
It only requires a few ingredients: a jar (a box can also work); a ribbon, stickers, glitter, or whatever else you like to decorate the jar; paper and a pen or pencil for writing your gratitude notes; and of course gratitude!
Step 1: Find a jar or box.
Step 2: Decorate the jar. You can tie a ribbon around the jar’s neck, put stickers on the sides, use clear glue and glitter to make it sparkle, paint it, or do whatever else you can think of to make it a bright and happy sight!
Step 3: This is the final most important step, which will be repeated every day. Think of at least three things throughout your day that you are grateful for.
It can be something as simple as a coffee at your favorite coffee shop, or as grand as the love of your partner or dear friend. Do this every day, write down what you are grateful for on little slips of paper (bonus points for colored paper!), and fill the jar.
Over time, you will find that you have a jar full of tones of reasons to be thankful for what you have and enjoy the life you are living.
If you are ever feeling especially down and need a quick pick-me-up, take a few notes out of the jar to remind yourself of what is good in your life.