“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” – Buddha
In eastern philosophy, the key to happiness is gratitude!
That may sound simple, and it is. If you currently practise gratitude daily, you will agree. However, why is gratitude so effective?
The first point is that gratitude rewires your brain, literally! The research and science back it up.
Gratitude and Your Brain
The effects of gratitude start in the brain, which is why this practise is so impactful.
Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles conducted a neurological study where the participants’ brain activity was measured using magnetic resonance as they were receiving gifts.
The areas of the brain that showed increased activity were the anterior cingulate cortex and medial prefrontal cortex, which are associated with moral and social cognition, reward, empathy, and value judgment.
The study shows that the emotion of gratitude correlates with the brain circuitry for moral cognition and positive emotions towards “provide a window into the brain circuitry for moral cognition and positive emotion that accompanies the experience of benefitting from the goodwill of others.”
Gratitude also activates the brain’s hypothalamus, which regulates hormones responsible for body temperature, metabolism, emotional responses, appetite, and sleep.
A 2009 National Institute of Health (NIH) study shows that the hypothalamus is activated when we feel gratitude or show kindness to others. The evidence also shows that gratitude results in less stress and better sleep!
Research on Gratitude
Psychologists and researchers Dr Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis and Dr Michael McCullough of the University of Miami published a ten-week research study in 2015 about the effects of practising gratitude.
The researchers divided their participants into three groups: group one was asked to keep a daily journal of things for which they were grateful. Group two was to keep a daily journal of daily issues that upset them. Group three was to write down daily events in a neutral manner, with no positive or negative emotions attached.
After the ten weeks, each group was to report 1.) how they felt physically and 2.) how they felt (in general) about life.
As you may suspect, the gratitude group reported feeling more optimistic about their lives than the other groups. The gratitude groups also reported more physical activity and fewer trips to the doctors than the other two groups.
Other research has been published about the physical effects of gratitude. For example, this research study examines the effect of gratitude for patients with depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.
The researchers found that practising gratitude improved the patients’ sleep quality while reducing feelings of depression and anxiety.
Another research study conducted by Paul J. Mills, Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Francisco, accessed the role of gratitude among asymptomatic heart failure patients.
The findings show that gratitude correlated to improved mood, less fatigue and inflammation, and reduced risk of heart failure among these patients!
As you can see from the research, the role of gratitude influences not only mental and emotional health but physical health too.
Gratitude and Addiction
During recovery, it is natural to focus on one’s self and all the challenges that come with getting and staying sober. Often the mindset of addicts is “I’m different,” “No one understands,” “Me versus the world,” or “Everyone is out to get me.”
How does gratitude help? Simply put, by focusing on gratitude, you’re thinking less of self and more on others.
If you attend any 12-step recovery meeting, and you will undoubtedly hear the topic of gratitude discussed. Gratitude is beneficial to anyone, but especially recovering addicts. The act of being grateful is healing, especially for those who have been dependent on drugs and alcohol.
Gratitude helps with lowering blood pressure and heart rate while increasing feelings of optimism. It also helps eliminate the feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Gratitude is an excellent antidote to self-focus. Research on addiction and recovery shows that being grateful is a powerful tool!
Benefits of Practising Gratitude
We have already gone over some physical and mental benefits of practising gratitude, including less depression, anxiety, and stress, better sleep, and an overall sense of well-being.
Dr Robert Emmons, who we mentioned earlier, is a Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis, and has devoted his research to the benefits of gratitude. He writes that those who maintain a sense of gratitude report a number of benefits:
- Stronger immune systems
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced pain and inflammation
- Better sleep
- More energy
- Increased exercise
- More positive emotions
- Feeing alert, alive, and awake
- Increased feelings of purpose
- Increased desire to be helpful and compassionate
- Increased feelings of forgiveness
- More outgoing feelings
- Reduced feelings of loneliness
“Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret, and depression, which can destroy our happiness,” Emmons said. “It’s impossible to feel envious and grateful at the same time.”
As you can see, the benefits to practising gratitude are many, but how do you start? Here are a few tools.
The first tool you can use it to keep a daily gratitude journal. You may feel weird doing this at first, and you may even feel like you don’t have anything positive to write about, but if you just start somewhere, the magic of gratitude will take place.
The following are some practical ways to begin:
- Start with a conscious decision. Choose to notice what you are grateful for.
- Instead of trying to list many things at once, start with one or two and write about them in detail.
- Focus on the people who have helped you in your recovery.
Secondly, you can try gratitude meditations. These don’t have to be in-depth; simply take a few deep, calming breaths, and as you decide what brings you gratitude, say to yourself, “For this, I am grateful.”
Finally, show gratitude to others. If someone is on your gratitude list, make sure you reach out and let them know. In addition, ask others what makes them grateful. Sharing gratitude magnifies this feeling of well-being, which is why most recovery centres and 12-step meetings make gratitude a centre focus.
At Camino Recovery, we have many years of experience with helping our clients recover from addictions and live happier, healthier lives than they ever thought possible.
Our treatment plans are specifically tailored to each client, and we believe this is what sets us apart.
We know there is hope; we see miracles every single day.
Contact us today if you’d like a confidential and free chat with one of our highly-trained professionals.