Gratitude: Our Bodies’ Natural Anti-Depressant

If you look up the word gratitude in the dictionary you will find it is a noun that describes the state of being grateful, thankful, and appreciative. But research has found is when you turn that noun into an action, expressing gratitude on a regular basis, there are numerous mental and physical health benefits, including longevity.

Generosity and happiness are neurally linked in our brains. According to research from the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center of UCLA, “gratitude does change the neural structures in the brain and make us feel happier and more content.” The ‘bliss center” of the brain gets stimulated during experiences of happiness and expressions of gratitude. A 1993 study on gratitude and its connection to happiness indicate that expressions of joy, like a smile or a few kind words, influence the brain in a positive manner and these benefits persist over time.

Here are just a few ways experiencing and expressing gratitude can improve your health and well-being:

Gratitude improves our health by improving mood, sleep patterns, and immune function.  The reasons for this positive effect are related to hormone release in our body.

The amazing thing about gratitude is that you have complete control on whether you experience it. Experiencing gratitude cannot be given to you by another person or by a pill (But I am sure the pharmaceutical companies are trying to figure out a way to capitalize on it).

What most people do not realize is that we have naturally occurring antidepressants and pain killers in our body.  Gratitude and happiness have shown to release norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin in our brains. These are the hormones associated with mood regulation well-being, happiness, and pain management.  Conversely, people who are happy, relaxed, and grateful release less of the damaging hormones associated with stress- adrenaline and cortisol.

People who are happy and grateful are more likely to engage in self-care activities, so there is a double down effect of gratitude. Once you feel happy and your body releases these “bliss’ hormones and decrease the “stress” hormones, you’re more likely to engage in activities that are good for you. For example, you’re more likely to exercise, seeking out social interaction, or engage in a self-care activity that you may have avoided if you were in a depressed, anxious, or stress mental state.

Gratitude reduces your overall inflammation and stimulates anti-inflammatory responses in your body that improves your health and reverses the autoimmune process. Studies have linked a daily gratitude practice with lower levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker in the body that is often elevated with patients with autoimmune conditions. Additional health benefits include lower blood pressure.

Actions for increasing gratitude:

A gratitude journal is the easiest way to remind ourselves every day of all the things in our life we can be thankful for a simple practice of sitting down every day and writing down what in the day you are grateful for allows our brain to start thinking about those things if that’s not for you include or in addition to a gratitude journal.

Consider writing thank you notes when you encounter a person who does something for which you are grateful who is improved your day or your mood you should write them a note and thank them improve their day increases the cohesiveness between you and that person and it also makes you feel better because it reminds you of all the things that you are happy about.

Saying a prayer or offering thanks at every meal that as an opportunity to remind ourselves to be thankful for all the things that we take for granted. If you have a meal in front of you, you are doing better than a lot of other people. It is important to be thankful for the things  we frequently take for granted.

Volunteering with those less fortunate reminds us to be grateful for many things we take for granted.

Radical Self-acceptance: Start everyday by giving yourself 5 compliments. Be mindful of negative self-talk and stop yourself by replacing a negative thought with one of gratitude. Ex. “Oh my god, I look so fat in this bathing suit, look at all my cellulite” and replace it with “Wow, I am lucky to be 50 and I am grateful to be going to the beach today with my family.”

Conclusion: Research indicates that we have the power within our bodies to heal ourselves or to harm ourselves. Our state of mind will control the release or “good hormones” that heal our bodies (Oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine) or “bad hormones” that cause harm to our bodies (cortisol, adrenaline). Our state of health is very determined by the thoughts we have so if we control our thoughts, we can control our health.  Consider adding a daily gratitude practice to your to-do-list, you will be grateful you did.

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