Scientists Show How Gratitude Literally Alters the Human Heart & Molecular Structure of the Brain

In this modern world the happiness is based solely on material possessions believing that that will offer us good and fulfilling life. In the race for wealth people forget to be grateful for the little things in life that actually make it meaningful.

For many people, the happiness is in front of them, but that urge for always wanting more does not allow them to truly see them. The constant complaining about the things that we do not have will lead only to unhappiness and disappointment.

Something that most people forget is that happiness comes from the inside and not from the material things. We have forgotten the meaning of gratitude which is one of the best virtues that takes care of our mind and body. Expressing kindness is the only way that elevates our spirit and warms our heart. When we are pleased in this way we can fight any illness and survive any hardship in life. In order to find out that you are grateful you can keep a journal documenting your good deeds and the benefits that you have spiritually by performing them, you can write prayers in it or just say it aloud.

How important gratitude is in or lives revealed the researchers at the UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center showing that an attitude of gratitude can change the molecular structure of the brain. Experiencing gratitude keeps the gray matter in best function, boosts health, and causes feelings of happiness and peace.

According to a conducted 2009 study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the hypothalamus is activated when we feel gratitude, or when we show acts of kindness. This part of the brain is accountable for many bodily functions like metabolism, sleep, appetite, temperature, and growth.

By experiencing gratitude our dopamine levels in the brain get increased so we want more of it. Dopamine is a chemical released by the brain that makes us naturally high, and since we feel good when experiencing gratitude we are motivated to feel it again and thus expressing gratitude more often. 

Many performed studies have demonstrated that the people who count their blessings are happier than the others, and rarely suffer from depression. 

One of those studies is the one conducted by the researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, involving around 300 people with mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.

The participants in this study were divided into three groups, and each participant visited a therapist. But, the treatments varied, namely the first group wrote a letter of gratitude to another person every week for three weeks, the second group wrote their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences, and the third group did not have any assignment.

The results were completely different in the three groups; the best results were in the first group. The people belonging to this group showed significant improvement after 12 weeks than the other two groups. The researchers concluded that writing the acts of gratitude can be very beneficial for the people that suffer from mental difficulties just like with the healthy individuals. Therapy is good for the people but the best results come when practicing gratitude.

Another study was performed on the benefits of gratitude in life by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis and his colleague Mike McCullough at the University of Miami.

In this study the participants were also divided into three groups, and each group had a task of keeping a short journal. The first group was asked to write down 5 things they were grateful for from the past week, the second one had to record their daily displeasing troubles from the past week, and the last one had to list 5 events or circumstances that affected them, either positively or negatively. All groups had to fulfill their task for a period of 10 weeks.

After this period, the first group felt much better than the others, in fact 25% happier than the second group. Moreover, they complained less, and exercised more.

Likewise, researchers have come to the conclusion that gratitude boosts mental strength, reduces stress, and it is a key part in overcoming trauma. This was shown in the released 2006 study of the Behavior Research and Therapy, where it was revealed that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder.

In the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology was also released a 2003 study on the effects of gratitude. In this study was shown that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. It seems that experiencing gratitude even during the worst times incites resilience.

Experiencing gratitude can lower plenty of toxic emotions, like regret, frustration, envy, and resentment.

The leading gratitude researcher, Robert Emmons, performed numerous studies on gratitude showing that it leads to lower depression, overall well-being, and more happiness.

The psychological benefits of gratitude by Berkeley researchers are the following ones:

  • Gratitude eliminates toxic emotions

  • It affects the brain function

  • Gratitude helps, even if you do not apply it

  • In order to experience its benefits you need to practice it and in time you will for sure feel it.

The people from each group did a “pay it forward” task, and during this activity the researchers used an MRI scanner to measure their brain activity. While performing the task, the participants were given money by a “nice person” that were needed to be given to someone they felt grateful about. In addition to this, they needed to fill out questionnaires in order to express their feelings when they had to pay it forward, to rate the extent of gratitude they felt toward the person giving the money, and how guilty they felt if they decided not to help.

The goal of this study was to make a distinction between actions motivated by gratitude and actions driven by other triggers like guilt, obligation, or the opinion of other people. This distinction had to be made as the benefits of gratitude are experienced only when it is true.

The results of this study revealed that when people felt more grateful, the MRI scans showed distinctive brain activity from the brain activity related to guilt and the desire to help a cause. Plus, more grateful people gave more money to a particular cause. The scans also showed that they had higher neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area related decision making and learning.

In addition to this, the researchers found out that expressing gratitude has lasting effects on the brain, and that was shown in participants that wrote the gratitude letters. Their scans showed greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex.

A 2007 conducted study also has proven the advantages of experiencing gratitude. In this study patients with hypertension took part and they had a task to count their blessings once a week. After this practice the researchers reported that the systolic blood pressure in these patients was dramatically lowered. They also confirmed that keeping a gratitude journal can reduce blood pressure by 10%.

Another research study on the same subject conducted by McCraty and Colleagues in 1998 also showed amazing results. The involved participants had to cultivate appreciation, and in 23% of them there was a reduction in cortisol, a stress hormone, and 80% of them demonstrated changes in heart rate variability, which is a direct result of decreased stress levels. The researchers explained this that these signals to the brain might be sent by the heart.

This finding was backed up by a group of prestigious and internationally established leaders in cardiology, psychology, physics, biophysics, astrophysics, education, biofeedback, mathematics, and engineering at the Institute of HeartMath. These scientists have confirmed that when a person has really positive emotions such as love and gratitude, the heart beats out a different message, and that determines the signals sent to the brain.

The Institute managed to gather a substantial amount of data about the way how our heart beats when we show gratitude. The director of Research at HeartMath, Rolin McCratey, Ph.D., explains that the emotional information can be changed if we learn how to shift emotions, and thus impact heart sending more singles to the brain, and also affecting its function.

The human heart communicates with the brain and body in four ways:

  • neurological communication (nervous system),

  • biophysical communication (pulse wave),

  • biochemical communication (hormones), and

  • energetic communication (electromagnetic fields).

Every pattern of heart activity has distinctive effects on cognitive and emotional function, meaning that the energy of every single one of us affects the collective field environment. Hence we need to be careful about our thoughts and feelings as our energy affects others as well.

Many studies have proven this and the one that was more prominent was in the 1980s, during the Israel-Lebanon war. Two well-recognized professors from the Harvard University organized groups of experienced meditators in Yugoslavia, Jerusalem, and the United States. They were asked to focus their attention on the area of conflict at various intervals in a 27-month period.

The results were amazing when a meditating group was active the levels of violence in Lebanon got down from 40 to 80% each time. In addition to this, the injuries caused by the fights reduced to 70% and the average number of people killed every day dropped from 12 to 3.

This same mediating was proceeded in 1993, in Washington, D.C., when 2,500 meditators meditated during a specific period, and their involvement led to a 25% drop in crime.

In 1999, statistics professor Jessica Utts at UC Irvine released a paper that had proven that parapsychological experiments have significantly stronger results than the ones of taking a daily dose of aspirin in terms of preventing heart attacks.

However, all these findings of many researchers are being ignored and labeled as pseudoscience. Nonetheless, the scientists have confirmed that our emotions are related to the consciousness, which can change or mind and inner world, and also the world outside.

We should always focus on positivity in life and show gratitude, empathy, and compassion, as thus we release positive energy and changing the world for the better.