Just as Humor, Laughter and Positive Thoughts empower us to achieve greater happiness, so does the magic of “Gratitude or Thankfulness/Gratefulness” that can strengthen our emotion and mental health, plus physically changing our brains better.
According to UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center, regularly expressing gratitude literally changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeps the gray matter functioning, makes us healthier and happier. In 2008, scientists first used fMRI to study gratitude. In the study the researchers measured brain activity of participants experiencing different emotions, and found that gratitude causes synchronized activation in multiple brain regions, and lights up parts of the brain’s reward pathways and the hypothalamus. In short, gratitude can boost neurotransmitter serotonin and activate the brain stem to produce dopamine. 1
In a 2017 research conducted by Joel Wong and Joshua Brown seeking to explore how gratitude works to improve our mental health, they invited nearly 300 adults, mostly college students who were seeking mental health counseling at a university to participate in the study. Participants are randomly assigned into three groups. Although all three groups received counseling services, the first group was also instructed to write one letter of gratitude to another person each week for three weeks, whereas the second group was asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences. The third group did not do any writing activity.
What they found comparing with the participants who wrote about negative experiences or only received counseling, those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended. This suggests that gratitude writing can be beneficial not just for healthy, well-adjusted individuals, but also for those who struggle with mental health concerns. In fact, it seems, practicing gratitude on top of receiving psychological counseling carries greater benefits than counseling alone, even when that gratitude practice is brief. 2
Other similar studies show people who write down what they feel grateful for everyday are likely to:
- develop greater empathy and offer other people more emotional support
- wake up each day feeling more refreshed
- have better sleep and experience lower levels of anxiety or depression
By being grateful for all life’s blessings, we may consider or list our blessings under the categories of:
- people we know – our closest family members and friends who love us, our schoolmates who learn with us or colleagues who work with us and support us, or even those who may have influenced our life without we knowing them, e.g. construction workers who help build the road we travel on everyday;
- our world and nature that supply us with food, weather, landscapes and sceneries, raw materials, etc.
Here we suggest 2 easy ways to remind ourselves and form a habit of marking down or expressing our gratitude: firstly during day time, we may use heart-shape tags or poster and enter our message of thanks to post up on the wall or work desk; while in school to set up a “Grateful Corner” to post our Gratitude messages that learners write to each other;
While our second approach is that every night before falling asleep say “Today, I am thankful for 3 things, (then name the person, what he/she did that makes us feel grateful or any events that we notice during the day which us feel blessed and thankful for)
Let’s make someone or our own day Specially Warm and Filled with Gratefulness. Cheers and Thanks for reading to the end.