The wide variety of effects that gratitude can have may seem surprising, but a direct look at the brain activity during gratitude yields some insight. The study I’m going to share comes from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH researchers examined blood flow in various brain regions while subjects summoned up feelings of gratitude (Zahn et al, 2009). They found that subjects who showed more gratitude overall had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus. This is important because the hypothalamus controls a huge array of essential bodily functions, including eating, drinking and sleeping. It also has a huge influence on your metabolism and stress levels. From this evidence on brain activity it starts to become clear how improvements in gratitude could have such wide-ranging effects from increased exercise, and improved sleep to decreased depression and fewer aches and pains.
Try keeping a daily gratitude journal or take 15-20 minutes in the morning and meditate on the things you are grateful for… Or an even bigger challenge with an even bigger reward is during times of stress instead of responding to the negative stress, recite what you are grateful for. Sound cheesy? The next time you are late for work because you are stuck in traffic, instead of stressing out at the traffic try redirecting your thoughts towards being grateful that you have a job to go to. Or the next time you are standing in a long check out lane instead of fretting over how much time it is taking focus on how good it is to have the resources you need to buy your family groceries. This is serious medicine here… Study after study clearly show not only a direct chemical reaction to stress on our health but also the specific well being of your brain.