The Science of Gratitude: How an attitude of thanksgiving can change your brain and body.

I’m sure we have all heard the common phrase “an attitude of gratitude.” Countless inspirational speakers and clergy alike have used to phrase to encourage their listeners to evoke a more positive attitude. This idea of adopting an attitude of gratitude has been scientifically proven to produce greater positive outcomes and a more fulfilled life. Here’s what you need to know to be most successful in this practice. 

Typically gratitude studies focus on people with no mental health concerns. Greater Good Medicine took a different approach to their research study on gratitude. They wanted to determine the impact of gratitude on individuals with mental health concerns.  They performed this study with about 300 adults, mostly college students, that were receiving counseling services. There were three test groups who were each given different tasks such as writing a letter of gratitude to someone for 12 weeks and writing about their deepest thoughts and feelings of negative experiences. 

The results found were incredible. They can be summed up into four major points. The first is the idea that gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions. The results assert this idea that gratitude letter writing can move a person’s thoughts away from negative emotions such as envy or resentment. The idea is that in writing these letters of gratitude to others, it becomes harder for you to focus on the negative experiences. 

The second idea is that gratitude helps even if we do not share it with others. The study asked the first group to send their letters to people they were grateful for but only about 23% actually sent them. They found however that everyone who wrote a letter about gratitude, despite not sending it, still received the positive benefits. Taking the simple act of writing a letter of gratitude allows the writer to cherish the people in their life more and move the focus from the negative feelings and thoughts. 

The next concept is the idea that the benefits of gratitude take time, they do not simply happen overnight. The positive benefits of gratitude found in the study were the results of twelve weeks of writing letters. They suggest being patient when starting out with the gratitude writing activity and not expecting immediate results. 

The final idea is that gratitude has lasting effects on this brain. When analyzing the brains of those who wrote letters to those who did not, the results propose that practicing gratitude trains the brain to be more receptive to encounters of gratitude, leading to improved mental health. So whether you take the time to write gratitude letters for the people in your life or simply think of reasons to be grateful every day, be intentional about practicing gratitude. It will help you in the long run. 



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