The Science of Gratitude
“#blessed”, “#grateful”, possibly the two most eye-roll inducing hashtags on social media. Frequently seen gracing the comments section of Instagram, below a heavily filtered photo of a beautiful person, with a smug “I’ve found the secret to enlightenment” smile beaming out at you, probably while they’re contorting themselves into some pretzel-like yoga position on a sun-drenched beach in Byron Bay. I’d be #blessed and #grateful too if I got paid to spend my days taking selfies in idyllic locations.
Well, it turns out these #blessed individuals could actually be onto something. Gratitude is a buzz-word right now, with a growing body of scientific research showing that it could be the key to a happier and healthy life.
But an attitude of gratitude doesn’t come naturally to most of us. We’re living in a world that fosters a culture of “striving”. We are never content with what we have, we never stop to appreciate the good in our lives or celebrate our achievements before charging onto the next goal.
You see the human brain has, over time, evolved a protective mechanism known as the Negativity Bias. Rather than naturally noticing the good things in our life, our brains prefer to seek out potential problems, threats, and dangers - which was probably useful back in our caveman days when we needed to be prepared to escape from predators and real physical dangers, but these days it means we spend a lot of time and energy worrying about things that may never happen (and that we probably can’t do much about even if they do!). And the research shows this makes us stressed out and unhappy.
Studies are now showing that by making a conscious effort to practice what I like to call “mindful gratitude”, we are able to counter this tendency towards negativity and significantly improve our happiness, health, well-being, and relationships.
A team of researchers out of the University of California, headed by Robert Emmons, have studied over a thousand subjects aged between 8 and 80 and found that after just 21 days of keeping a gratitude journal, participants had effectively rewired their brains to start scanning for positives in their lives: they were 3 times more likely to notice a positive. They’d essentially managed to overcome their negativity bias!
But the benefits didn’t just end there. Participants who kept gratitude journals not only had higher levels of happiness, but they also experienced better physical health; better psychological health, greater resilience and increased resistance to stress. They also slept better, were more likely to practice self-care, and had better social skills.
Pretty impressive huh? But wait, there’s more….
Studies on gratitude in the workplace have shown that workers whose managers express gratitude for their contribution are more productive, with increased work output. Gratitude may also be the secret to a great relationship. A study on couples found that those who practiced gratitude had increased positive feelings towards their partner and also improved communication.
In my next 4-week Mindfulness Meditation 101 course on 21st February at SoulPod Health, we take a closer look at the science and art of gratitude and learn some effective techniques to cultivate gratitude in our daily life.
And if you’re keen to get started on gratitude now, go on: tag your next Instagram post with some #blessed, #grateful – I promise not to un-follow you.
Until next time….
Be happy, be healthy, be mindful,