I hope you’ve seen my #49WeeksofGratitude posts @heyamylacey. Through this journey, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that grace accompanies gratitude. Perhaps you’ve been fortunate enough to experience this and the powerful transformative shift that occurs when gratitude becomes a habitual part of life. Let’s be honest though…some days finding the good is like pulling teeth. On those tedious and tiresome days, there is in fact a good reason to try to find one tiny grain of appreciation. Several studies now prove expressing gratitude no longer simply elicits feelings of thankfulness, it actually improves mental and physical health.
Scientists at the NIH discovered one amazing benefit of expressing gratitude— increased blood flow to the hypothalamus in the brain. Why is this important? The hypothalamus, although the size of a pea, has quite a mighty job—it influences all of the following functions:
- body weight
- body temperature
- heart rate
- blood pressure
- cortisol levels
The scientists determined this by performing MRI’s while patients actively expressed gratitude. The increase in blood flow they observed helped to regulate the hypothalamus, therefore regulating these functions and improving overall health. In short, the benefits of practicing gratitude, mentally and physically, are truly infinite.
Indiana University published a study in 2017 assessing the success of practicing gratitude to improve mental health. Prior to this, the majority of the studies pertaining to gratitude consisted primarily of participants that fell within the norm on the mental health scale. However, not all of us are hardwired for happiness. Recognizing this, the researchers chose 293 participants suffering from anxiety and depression actively engaged in counseling.
The study revealed, that of the three randomized groups in the study, the group that was asked to write just one letter per week expressing gratitude exhibited significant measurable improvement in their anxiety and depression. Furthermore, their mental health continued to improve with time, despite this very limited expression of gratitude—only one letter per week.
Life is busy. Possibly even too busy to find time to write a letter or jot down notes of gratitude in a journal. Under these circumstances, challenge yourself to simply say five things you appreciate. They don’t have to be big things, it could be as simple as “I’m grateful it’s not raining”. Attempt to find kernels of appreciation during the precarious moments, for instance getting stuck in traffic when you’re already late for school drop-off or work. This may be a day your child needs extra time with you to talk. Or perhaps you are avoiding an unknown accident.
Dedicate yourself to these easy practices. Soon you will find gratitude is a natural part of your thought process and the benefits you and your loved ones receive will increase exponentially! Please share your stories and let us know what you are grateful for!