Gratitude: The Secret Ingredient to Happiness

By Stephanie Camins – MA, LPC

verified by Psychology Today

The experts have weighed in and their findings are astounding! Gratitude equals happiness.  That’s a bold statement but the studies agree unanimously that people who practice gratitude regularly are happier.

And why not, they experience a host of benefits. Psychological benefits include increases in positive emotions and the ability to focus.  Physical benefits include increased immunity, better sleep, and overall better health. Social benefits include an increased connection in your personal relationships and professional mobility.

The Proof is in the Pudding: The Science Behind Gratitude   

Often you will hear claims that emotions are not quantifiable because they are not tangible. Science has proven otherwise when it comes to gratitude and its effect on a person’s happiness and overall well-being.

Many reputable, data-backed studies done on the subject of gratitude have brought forth indisputable evidence. In these studies, MRI scans showed the effect of gratitude on the brain and its neurons.

Those participating in this study reported having an easier time coping with common negative emotions such as guilt and sadness. These same folks also experienced an increased willingness to be helpful, empathetic, and kind to others. All because they focused on grateful thoughts and emotions that meant something special to them.

The act of gratitude has been shown to increase the release of dopamine, the body’s natural feel-good chemical.   Dopamine contributes to the feeling of pleasure and satisfaction.

Other identifiable and measurable benefits that gratitude has on the human body include the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is in charge of our “rest and digest” state. Opposite of the “fight or flight” mechanism we experience in times of extreme stress.

Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system’s rest and digest mechanism brings forth many benefits. Cortisol levels (the stress hormone) will drop which leads to blood pressure levels also following suit. The body’s immune system also grows stronger in this period. The less stress and negative energy that is flowing through the body, the better it will feel and operate.

These studies stand to prove that gratitude has a tangible and measurable effect on the human body, mind, and soul.

The Power of Gratitude: Benefits Outside of the Body

Research has found conclusive evidence that gratitude can, in fact, have a lasting effect on our levels of happiness beyond what has been predetermined by our genetics. Meaning, by default we as humans naturally maintain a relative level of hormones or overall ability to be happy. A researcher named Robert Emmons’ has determined that gratitude increases this happiness threshold allowing us to experience even greater feelings of joy.

On a Social Level:

Gratitude isn’t just something that we experience inwardly within ourselves. Showing gratitude outwardly improves your ability to show compassion and empathy toward others. When you feel more cared for and appreciated by those around you, you will be more apt to show such feelings in return.

As you spread your feelings of gratitude from one person to the next you will find that your social circle will begin to expand. Gratitude can easily be identified as a contagious way of being, just as a smile can spread like wildfire. Sharing your feelings of gratitude with loved ones and even strangers you’ve just become acquainted with will strengthen these relationships over time.

On a Professional Level:

 Whether you are already a leader or working towards holding the position as one, learning to show gratitude to those who you work with or are leading is important. You will notice quickly that showing gratitude to employees or those who you work alongside with will increase productivity levels exponentially. Who wants to put in any amount of effort in a job when they feel undervalued and under-appreciated by those who they are working for?

By showing gratitude within your professional life you will promote a more positive atmosphere around your place of work, encouraging all who are present to follow your lead. A good leader knows how to lead by example in this way. By promoting feelings of gratitude and optimism in the workplace there will be an increase in focus on solutions rather than problems.

Wrapping it Up

       We can all agree that practicing gratitude is a worthy endeavor.  However, it is easy to get stuck on the how, when, what and where.  Here are 10 ways to incorporate gratitude into everyday:

  1. Keep a gratitude journal: Write 3 things you were grateful for every night before bed.
  2. Write thank-you notes to people expressing a positive way they have impacted you.
  3. Practice gratitude focused meditations
  4. Make a list of all the wonderful things your body does for you
  5. Think of 5 things that bring you pleasure every day
  6. Spend 10 minutes in the morning setting positive intentions for your day
  7. Engage in fun, healthy, productive hobbies
  8. Stay present-focused
  9. Step out of your comfort zone
  10. Reward yourself for taking on challenges

Creating a daily habit out of showing gratitude will increase levels of happiness, beyond that of what your mind and body were predetermined to experience from birth. When practicing a grateful lifestyle, your physical health will also reap benefits.

See Relationship Rehab, Kids Corner and Teen Talk for more ways to practice gratitude with your partner, family, and kids.

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