“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero
A grateful mindset has been shown to have stronger links to good mental health and life satisfaction than most other personality traits, including optimism and hope.
Positive emotions like gratitude, can help to transform us, both mentally and physically, but our brain has a natural negativity bias. This means we are much better at noticing what annoys or frustrates us. This tendency is worsened when you feel a bit down or stressed out, meaning small stresses can end up having a disproportionate impact on how you feel and on your productivity.
Barbara Fredrickson, from the University of North Carolina, has shown that in order to counter our natural bias towards the negative, we should aim for a positivity ratio of at least three positive thoughts or experiences to every one negative.
Practicing gratitude is one way to address our tendency towards negativity, it also helps us to feel less stressed and more in control of our emotions, and as a result, get more done.
Researchers Robert Emmons, from the University of California, and Michael McCullough, from the University of Miami, conducted a trial where they randomly asked one group of participants to keep a weekly list of the things they were grateful for, other groups wrote down annoyances or neutral events. Ten weeks later, the first group reported having significantly greater life satisfaction than the other two.
Gratitude and the brain
- Gratitude activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres.
- Gratitude stimulates the hypothalamus, which regulates stress, and the ventral tegmental area, which is the part of our brain’s reward circuitry that produces the sensation of pleasure.
- Gratitude increases the production of serotonin, which is responsible for helping regulate our moods.
Practicing gratitude is one of the most effective ways to increase our ability to cope with both everyday stresses and traumatic life events. A study published in Behaviour Research and Therapy in 2006 found that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Grateful people experience an increase in positive emotions, less stress, lower blood pressure, less heart disease, better weight control and healthier blood sugar levels.
What are you grateful for today?
Who are you grateful to?
How can you share your gratitude tomorrow?
Gratitude is a core practice in the 28 Day Happiness Boost, my signature programme for teachers and school leaders who want to leren how to train their brain to focus on the positive. The brain is lazy and will power is weak, so if you want to achieve lasting change, you need to establish new happiness habit loops. I teach you how.
You can read about the 28 Day Happiness Boost here. If you’ve got a question, or are just a bit curious about gratitude or happiness in general, why not get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org