The Science of Gratitude
With the holiday season and year end upon us, I find it a natural time to reflect on the year that has passed and the many things I am grateful for. Wild Rice Wellness is just over one year old and wow, I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to care for and connect with so many patients this past year. It has been a busy year but filled with so many wonderful milestones both personally and professionally. I am deeply grateful for those who have supported Wild Rice Wellness and the patients who I have had the pleasure of working with this past year. Every day, every interaction is an opportunity to help someone on the path to healing and for this opportunity, I am forever grateful. Let’s dive into the science of gratitude!
Gratitude comes from the Latin word gratia which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. It is a feeling of thanks or appreciation. It encompasses a wide array of feelings and behavior. It can come from something as small as someone letting you over in traffic or gratitude for a huge gift like organ donation. It can also be narrowly focused toward a single person or can be a broad focus such as being thankful for life in general. Gratitude can be focused on past positive memories and being thankful for past blessings, the present as in not taking the present moments for granted and the future, having hope and optimism for what is to come.
The science of gratitude is a hot topic in research these days. In many research studies, gratitude is consistently associated with happiness. In a 2021 Harvard research study, they found that “gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity and build strong relationships” (Harvard, 2021). Another study by two prominent gratitude researchers, had two groups of participants, one which wrote about things they were grateful for each week and the second group wrote about irritations from the week. After 10 weeks, the grateful group felt better and were more optimistic about their lives, no surprise. What is interesting, is that the gratitude group also exercised more and had fewer healthcare visits during the study showing the connection between gratitude and physical well being.
Other studies have shown that those who practice gratitude 2-3 times per week report feeling more joy, meaning, happiness and awe in their life experiences. It has also been shown to help heal from prior trauma and help to be more resilient if faced with a future trauma. Gratitude can reduce anxiety and improve general well-being and motivation. The science of gratitude has also shown that gratitude can even reduce inflammatory markers in the body! It has also been shown to improve social relationships across the board. One such study of partners showed that when individuals took time to express gratitude that their partner felt more positive and also felt more comfortable expressing concerns.
As with most things in science, there is some debate about what style of gratitude practice is effective or most effective. As it turns out, studies have shown that receiving gratitude seems to be the most potent form. Since we can’t all sit around waiting for others to express how grateful they are, it is also effective to recall in your mind a time when someone showed gratitude to you, in as much detail as possible including how you felt in that moment. You can also think about positive stories of gratitude and thanks of others, such as strangers helping one another. This seems to elicit certain neural circuits in the brain that just thinking about what we are thankful for does not completely activate. Recalling gratitude, either a time where you received gratitude or a story of others gratitude, actually activates physiologic changes in your heart rate and breathing, into a more relaxed state, thus possibly making it a superior way to practice gratitude.
This is not to say we should not think about the things we are grateful for but according to the most recent science of gratitude, perhaps we should also express our gratitude to those around us and we might just change their neural circuitry and well being.
All this said, implementing a gratitude practice is a simple and quick thing we can do to improve our well being and the well being of others. Here are some ways to start :
- Express gratitude to those in your life whom you are thankful for on a regular basis
- Write thank-you notes
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Count your blessings
- *Recall a time when someone expressed their gratitude to you in detail
- *Think about a story about when strangers helped one another and expressed thanks
Happy Thanksgiving, I am grateful you are here.
To learn more about Alison Percowycz, NP, owner and Functional Medicine Practitioner at Wild Rice Wellness, click HERE.
Book a Free 15 minute consultation to see how Wild Rice Wellness can help transform your health and wellness!