The Key Ingredient to Happiness: Gratitude
From philosophers to rulers since the early BC’s, human species have ruminated over this timeless question: what is the secret to happiness? Thanks to emerging research in neuroscience and psychology, we no longer have to speculate on the factors contributing to our happiness. So, what are the ingredients to happiness? It isn’t something very sexy like money, fame, or that beautiful Ferrari. It’s good ol’ gratitude! Currently, there are over 26 studies and counting supporting the link between gratitude and happiness. According to multiple research studies – gratitude not only improves our happiness, but also our career, health, and relationships!
Gratitude and Happiness
Gratitude acts much like a natural antidepressant, because our every thought and action results in a release of chemicals in the brain. By recalling just 5 things we are grateful for everyday, we can activate certain regions of our brain and promote dopamine and serotonin production. Dopamine and serotonin are often considered as our “bliss” neurochemicals, and fires when we do things that bring us pleasure. Procrastination, self-doubt and lack of enthusiasms are linked with low levels of dopamine, while depression and loneliness are associated with deficiencies in serotonin. It’s no wonder why most medications prescribed to treat depression focuses on increasing levels of serotonin and dopamine production in our brain.
Gratitude and Career
How does being thankful help us in our career? Think back to all the horrible bosses you’ve encountered, and compare them to the bosses/organizations you’ve happily worked for. You may find that the common thread between the two is that one expresses gratitude and appreciation toward your efforts, while the other is overly critical and micro-managerial. In which environment did you feel more productive and creative in? Chances are, the grateful boss empowered you to want to work harder and provided you the room to be more innovative. If you are the one showing appreciation and gratitude- kudos to you! I imagine your work life to be that much more fulfilling and the clock to tick that much faster. Interacting with your coworkers and clients using gratitude not only boosts your networking skills, but also makes you a more effective employee/boss.
Gratitude and Health
You may have heard that stress is detrimental to your health, and places you at higher risk for heart disease, asthma, obesity, diabetes, and the list goes on. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. We’ve accumulated a few studies showing how gratitude is associated with reduction in physical pain, increased sleep quality, lowered blood pressure and risk of heart disease! Here’s an at-a-glance chart of findings from multiple studies:
|Keeping a daily gratitude journal caused participants to report:16% fewer physical symptoms, 19% more time spent exercising, 10% less physical pain, 8% more sleep, 25% increase sleep quality||Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E.|
|The emotions of appreciation and gratitude was shown to induce the relaxation response||The Grateful Heart: The Psychophysiology of Appreciation. McCraty, Rollin; Childre, Doc Emmons, Robert A. (Ed); McCullough, Michael E. (Ed).|
|A gratitude visit reduced depressive symptoms by 35% for several weeks; and a gratitude journal lowered depressive symptoms by 30%+ for as long as the journal was kept||Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions. American Psychologist, Seligman, M.E.P., Steen, T.A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005).|
|In patients with hypertension, there was a significant decrease in their systolic blood pressure when they counted their blessings once a week||Gratitude: Effect on Perspectives and Blood Pressure of Inner-city African-American Hypertensive Patients. Randolph Wolf Shipon, Temple University.|
|Gratitude correlated with improved sleep quality, less time required to fall asleep, and increased sleep duration||Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions. Journal of psychosomatic research. Wood, Alex M., et al.|
|Levels of gratitude significantly correlated with vitality and energy||Multiple Studies!|
Gratitude and Relationships
As a practicing therapist, I’ve observed a common thread among people expressing dissatisfaction in their relationships. The thread is universal across dating, marriage, family, and even parenting. Relationships become strained when either party feels undervalued and unappreciated for a sustained amount of time. Below is a list of common quotes that are code for “I feel unappreciated, and just need some lovin’”.
Parent to child:
“All you care about is your games/friends/*insert unapproved activity*”
“Oh, Tom’s mom lets him do that? Then go live with Tom’s mom.”
Child to parent:
“I HATE YOU!”
“You just don’t understand!”
In dating and relationships:
“Whatever, do what you want.”
“You always want to hang out with your friends!”
“Why can’t you just be more [romantic, thoughtful, helpful, considerate].”
“I remember when you used to [talk to me, be romantic, clean].”
Friend to friend:
“All you do is hangout with your boyfriend/girlfriend now.”
“We never do the things that I want to do.”
Conclusion? Practice gratitude to improve every aspect of your life and increase happiness!
*Hint: Our first TheraBox‘s theme is related to this article
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