Gratitude is more than just being thankful. It is showing appreciation and returning the kindness you have been shown. Although it sounds easy, many people struggle with how to show gratitude and whom they should show gratitude to. Because of the various cultures, beliefs, values, and experiences around the world, the definition of gratitude can vary from individual to individual. In addition to this, today’s fast paced world has made it easy to miss opportunities of expressing your thanks or performing acts of kindness. Scientists have discovered the importance of gratitude. It is much more than an action. It has now been defined as a positive emotion that affects both your mental and physical health. Let’s look at some of the benefits of gratitude.
Below are two important hormones and neurotransmitters released when you practice gratitude.
Performing an act of gratitude causes the body to release oxytocin, which has been coined the happiness hormone. This all important hormone counteracts the effects of the stress hormone, cortisol, thus lowering your overall stress level.
Oxytocin aids in reproduction, social bonding, and childbirth. When oxytocin is released, it can increase trust, relationship building, empathy, and sexual activity. Oxytocin is often referred to as the love hormone because it increases with hugging, kissing, sex, and other types of intimacy.
Dopamine is another chemical released by the brain during acts of gratitude. Dopamine is a feel good hormone that helps us feel contented, motivated, and energized. As more dopamine is released, productivity increases, which increases work related happiness and success.
Dopamine carries signals to and from the brain. Dopamine affects how the brain determines if a goal is worth going after. It is referred to as the love hormone as it plays a role in learning, pleasure, and motivation. Dopamine is released when your brain expects a reward.
How Gratitude Affects Relationships
Gratitude offers numerous benefits to a relationship. Expressing gratitude for favors, gifts, and another’s presence can increase attachment and encourage closeness. Studies have shown gratitude acts as the glue to bind individuals together thanks to the secretion of oxytocin. The emotion of gratitude not only increases intimacy in a relationship, but it also causes the other individual to reciprocate and give more gratitude, thus further strengthening the relationship.
Gratefulness and Self Esteem
Another way gratitude affects an individual is increased self esteem. When you feel valued, your level of happiness and comfort increases. As confidence is increased, the individual will begin focusing on the positive things in their relationships, thus increasing their gratitude and their self esteem. If you suffer from low self esteem, practicing gratitude can improve your satisfaction and self belief. Focusing on the positive things in life rather than the negative can reduce the risk of illness, depression, and a variety of mental health issues.
Gratitude and Sleep
Did you know that practicing gratitude can help you get a better night’s sleep? By focusing on the positive aspects of your life, you will be able to settle down quicker, have better dreams, and sleep deeper. Grateful individuals are less likely to focus on worrisome or negative thoughts that can keep them awake. Our final waking moments impact your sleep; therefore, as you begin practicing gratitude, your sleep will improve, which will improve your mood.
Effects of Suppressing Your Emotions
Suppressing your emotions belittles their existences and you begin to function at a lower level of awareness. As authentic emotions are ignored, your relationships and happiness will be negatively impacted. When emotions are not processed, they will build up and seep into other areas of your life. For example, if you have experienced a trauma and have not dealt with the emotions surrounding the trauma, anything that triggers the memory can cause negative feelings like irrational anger, depression, sadness, etc. to come to the surface and burst forth.
How to Raise Grateful Children
Gratitude can be cultivated at any age; however, it is easier to foster gratitude in younger children. When children are taught gratitude, they will have a happier, peaceful, and healthier childhood. Positive relationships with family and friends will occur. The most important thing to remember is children learn best by example.
As you begin to show gratitude, they will begin to experiment with gratitude themselves. Having a giving spirit, showing your children that writing thank you notes are important, and thanking your child when they are obedient, complete tasks, or do something without being asked can help cultivate gratitude.
Openly thanking a friend and family in front of your child is another great way to raise grateful children. Afterward, explain why you thanked your friend or family member. Remember that it is vital that your child see you thanking your friend and family for acts as well as things.
One of the best ways to practice gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. Writing down things that you are thankful for in your life can help you focus on the good things happening in your life. Furthermore, writing down your thoughts cements them and allows your thoughts and emotions to manifest. As you begin journaling, it may be difficult to come up with things that you are thankful for however with time, you will have no trouble finding things to be grateful for. For example, in the beginning, you will probably focus on what has been done for you; however, soon you will learn to be thankful for that parking place near the entrance to a store, the gorgeous sunset, or the five minute reprieve of peace that you experienced during the afternoon.
The 30 Day Challenge
Are you ready to improve your physical and emotional health by growing grateful? If so, you are ready to begin a 30 Day Gratitude Challenge. All that you need for this exercise is a good attitude, a journal, and fifteen minutes of time. Each day, write down three things that you are grateful for. This does not need to be long paragraphs or beautiful writing. You can simply put, today I am grateful for… and list three things that you are thankful for. As you progress in your 30 day challenge, you can begin repeating the process in the evening, resulting in six things you are grateful for.
As you can see, there are number of benefits of gratitude. As you begin practicing gratitude, it will become easier and easier. If you have questions on how your mental health is affecting your physical health or if you are feeling symptoms of anxiety or depression, our integrative practitioners can help. Functional and integrative medicine restores the body by looking at your physical, mental, and emotional health to find the root cause of your illness rather than only treating your symptoms. Our goal is to help activate the body’s innate healing process to improve your well-being and overcome illness.