Can Gratitude Literally Alter the Brain and the Heart?

“Today be thankful and think how rich you are. Your family is priceless, your time is gold  and your health is wealth.” – Zig Ziglar 

Gratitude is a funny thing. In some parts of the world, somebody who gets a clean drink of water, some food, or a worn out pair of shoes can be extremely grateful. Meanwhile, somebody else who has all the necessities they need to live can be found complaining about something. 

“Be thankful for what you have, you’ll end up having more.  If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.  – Oprah Winfrey

It is a matter of perspective, and in a world where we are constantly made to feel like we are lacking and always ‘wanting’ more, it can be difficult to achieve or experience actual happiness. Many of us are always looking at external factors to experience joy and happiness, when in truth it is an inside job.

Gratitude —defined as the quality of being thankful; a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness — can be an incredibly powerful experience and now there is growing evidence that being grateful brings good feeling and better health.

People of all ages and various nationalities who have more grateful dispositions report fewer health complaints than their less grateful counterparts. One study reports that the more grateful participants reported fewer health problems (such as headaches, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory infections, and sleep disturbances); in another, they reported fewer physical symptoms (including headaches, dizziness, stomachaches, and runny noses). 

Here are the results of few studies that conclude that gratitude can improve your health:

Research from UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. According reports: “Having an attitude of gratitude changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeps gray matter functioning, and makes us healthier and happier. When you feel happiness, the central nervous system is affected. You are more peaceful, less reactive and less resistant. Also, there are a number of studies showing that people who count their blessings tend to be far happier and experience less depression. 

Researchers from Berkeley have identified how gratitude works on our minds and bodies. The following are four insights from their research suggesting what causes the psychological benefits of gratitude.

  • Gratitude releases us from toxic emotions
  • Gratitude helps even if you do not share it
  • Gratitude’s benefits take time & practice
  • Gratitude has lasting effects on the brain

“A grateful heart is a magnet for miracles.” – Unknown

Our feelings of gratitude are products of our consciousness, and when we feel them the brain responds. Researchers are now discovering that the heart also responds and that it might actually be the heart that is responsible for sending these signals to the brain. Current studies have proven that when a person is feeling really positive emotions like gratitude, love, or appreciation, the heart beats out a different message, which determines what kind of signals are sent to the brain. In fact, the heart actually sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends in return and these heart signals (from heart to brain) actually have a significant effect on brain function.

What we have today is what we once wanted before. There is a lingering belief out there that obtaining material possessions is the key to happiness. Sometimes this may be true, but that happiness is temporary. The truth is that happiness is an inside job. 

I feel if there was ever a quick fix for mental and physical health issues that just expressing your gratitude is it.  It is easy, you can keep it to yourself and the research has shown it works.  What is the catch? You. You have to actually take the time and opportunity to do it.  There are many online techniques that you can find and the following are two that I highly recommend.  1. Take the time to notice and reflect on things that you are thankful for. It does not take long to send out a silent message to the universe, “Thank you for that “name the blessing”.  2.  Keep a gratitude journal and write in it daily, or at least weekly. 

What do I do to express my gratitude?  Here are two things that I use daily: The very first thing every morning, I give thanks for what I call my basics my: health, family, home, my love, my money makers: car, phone, iPad and other areas depending on what is going on in my life at the time.  Also, I always say thank you to people who provide service or assistance. In general, I praise through out the day, for just about anything and everything that I experience or that crosses my mind.  For example, I give thanks for getting a good parking spot, a good deal at the store, heck for a good hair day.  You get the idea. Oh and if it is something I think is really big, I do a little happy dance (not in public though I wait until I am alone). 

Emotions and other factors associated with consciousness have the power to transform our inner world in ways we do not yet fully understand but new research shows how consciousness can actually transform our physical/material world, and that is huge. This validates the idea that if we can change our inner world through gratitude, empathy, compassion, and meditation, we can make our outer world healthier and more fulfilling.

And so to all of my readers . . . “Thank you for your part in my journey”. 

This is a reprint of my article that appeared in the Capital City Hues newspaper November 2019.

. . . . . . .

Let me share my latest joy and excitement with you. Shortly after this article ran, the Editor of the newspaper received (see photo below) and forwarded it to me. This was my first time someone shared their appreciation to my Editor. Needless to say, I am deeply honored, pleased and very GRATEFUL.

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Artist, Writer, Graphic Design, Jazz Radio Host here to Inform, Inspire & Ignite you to live the life you really want.

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