How Gratitude Can Affect The Heart and Molecular Structure Of The Brain
We’ve all heard of the positive effects of gratitude, but did you know that being grateful has the power to biologically alter the human heart and the molecular structure of the brain? In western society, we must cultivate gratitude, unlike in other countries where resources are low, gratitude is pretty commonplace. We have so much to be grateful for, but because our society is at such a fast pace, it’s easy to forget how fortunate we are. The media tells us that if we just get the next best thing, we’ll be happy. It’s true that material possessions give us temporary happiness, but happiness is more of an inside job.
Studies show that those who practice gratitude daily experience a decline in symptoms of anxiety and depression. In fact, gratitude changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeps gray matter functioning, and makes us healthier and happier. The central nervous system is able to calm down and you feel more peaceful and less reactive and resistant to those around you.
One study divided 300 adults into three groups. All of the groups received counselling services but one group was instructed to write a letter of gratitude to another person every week. The other group was told to write about their anxieties and darkest thoughts. The group who wrote the letters of gratitude reported a reduction in anxiety and depression twelve weeks into the study.
This just proves the power of gratitude and how focusing on it can dramatically change your life. Here are some basic findings about gratitude:
- Gratitude frees us from negative, toxic emotions
- Gratitude can be beneficial even if you don’t share it with someone else
- Gratitude needs time to work, it’s a practice not a remedy
- Gratitude has long lasting effects on the brain and nervous system
How does it affect the brain?
Studies show that through practicing gratitude, brain activity shows a distinct difference to activity related to guilt and feeling obligated to help a cause as opposed to wanting to help a cause. It was also found that those who felt more grateful gave more money to a cause and showed greater sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex which is associated with learning and decision making.
Also, the medial prefrontal cortex seems to be activated more in those who wrote the gratitude letters from the previous study. A brain network was also recently discovered that “gives rise to feelings of gratitude,” which could help work out how social information is transformed into complex emotions.
How does it affect the heart?
Gratitude lives in our consciousness but it isn’t felt with our brains, it’s felt with our hearts. Research has shown that our hearts actually emit a wave frequency when gratitude emotions are felt which positively effect the brain. Our heart beats differently depending on what emotion we are feeling and this signals our brain to react in the way that it does.
Information is coded in these electro-magnetic fields, and by learning to be more grateful we are shifting this coded information and improving the way it impacts us and the world around us.
What does all this mean?
Emotions are powerful and they can have a direct correlation on the brain and physiological heart function. Knowing this information, we can work to stay healthy and keep a positive mindset so that our external world can reflect this. By practicing gratitude daily in the form of a journal or writing letters of gratitude to others, we can start to feel these positive emotions more regularly and experience more freedom around how we feel and how we interact with others. In order to feel the most effects from gratitude, it’s also important to focus on your physical and mental health. Trying therapies such as acupuncture therapy or massage helps to relax the body and open up energetic meridians around the heart that will allow emotions like gratitude to enter into your life more easily.