Why Being Grateful Is Good for Your Brain

You were probably reminded to say “thank you” from a very young age. It's part of social etiquette. Gratitude is a long-standing ritual.

Those two words have become so commonplace that their meaning is often lost. “Thank you” can become a mindless, rote response. That is especially ironic considering the word "thank" can be traced way back to the Old English word for “to think” or “thought.”

It is all about the mind and being mindfully grateful.

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With inner peace and gratitude you hold the sun in your hand

“The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.” 
~Dalai Lama

If we link gratitude back to the brain—the thinking organ—then gratitude regains its power. A genuine “thank you,” said as an expression of gratitude, does indeed take mental effort. Turns out, practicing gratitude has great benefits for your brain, too.

Here are four ways that practicing true gratitude can actually improve your mental and emotional well-being. Each method that engages gratitude releases good chemicals that help us feel better. To understand the neurotransmitters and chemicals that the brain naturally produces, read "The Brain's Neurotransmitters—Make Pleasure a Priority!'

Gratitude reduces toxic emotions.

In studies about gratitude and psychological health, practicing grateful thoughts has been shown to reduce envy, resentment, frustration, and regret. Leading Psychology researcher Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. at UC Davis, found that gratitude and depressed thoughts have an inverse relationship in the brain. More sincere gratitude can lead to less depression.

Gratitude, the fairest blossom of the soul.

Gratitude improves social psychology.

One study found that thanking new acquaintances had a huge effect on whether they would pursue further interactions. So not only does gratitude make people more likely to socialize with you, being grateful makes you more likely to handle social situations with ease. Another study at the University of Kentucky found grateful people less likely to act revengeful and more likely to experience and express empathy.

For a deeper dive, read a white paper on the growing evidence of the positive effects of gratitude.

Gratitude increases self-confidence.

Self-esteem is often cited as a crucial ingredient for success. However, gratitude is an under-recognized key to gaining more self-confidence. Instead of being resentful, jealous, or downtrodden in the face of others’ successes, being grateful for what you have builds your self-esteem. Bolstered by the gifts you do have, you’re more likely to feel self-confident and, therefore, more likely to succeed.

For tips on how to train your brain to be more grateful, check out our series on Building Healthy Brain Habits.
The highest expression of gratitude.

Gratitude increases resilience in your brain.

After the tragedy of 9/11, in one Journal of Social Psychology study, researchers found that gratitude made a big difference in people’s resilience as they coped with loss. From veterans struggling with PTSD to partners navigating relationships and parents trying to connect with their children, taking time to mindfully recognize what you’re grateful for will make you stronger when inevitable struggles do arise. Practicing gratitude during difficult times can uplift and help you to navigate challenging times.

Gratitude is not just saying “thank you,” like you might’ve been taught as a child. Gratitude is a thoughtful practice, an exercise in mindfulness that has much to do with the Old English root of the word: to think.

Gratitude is a practice of mindfulnessPractice gratitude for your brain’s health and happiness, to benefit your relationships, boost your self-confidence, and give you strength through struggles. Plus, gratitude might help you sleep! Noting grateful thoughts before bed was proven to help people sleep deeper and longer in a study for Applied Psychology.

For more tips on how to practice gratitude in your daily life, Positive Psychology Program has a "How to" article. And Happier Human has a helpful infographic about the benefits of gratitude practice. With all the psychology, social studies, and neuroscience behind it, gratitude seems like a no-brainer at this point.

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Jennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence CoachJennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence Coach
Jennifer is the founder of Heartmanity and an emotional intelligence expert. She has two decades of EQ experience and is the author of emotional intelligence training and courses. As an emotional fitness coach, Jennifer teaches EQ skills, brain science hacks, and a comprehensive approach that gets results. She is happily married and the mother of three incredible grown children.

Posted in Brain Fitness, Mindfulness and Perspective

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