A Moment of Gratitude, A Billion Connections!
In the fast-paced world of the 21st century, plagued by problems like unemployment, global warming, crumbling societal structures and a worldwide pandemic, stress, anxiety and negative behaviours have become an integral part of day-to-day life. In these moments of bleakness, it can be difficult to find gratitude and happiness. Many people find themselves grappling with emotional instability, decreased satisfaction with their quality of life and unhappiness. These feelings can manifest themselves in cognitive impairments, as we find ourselves struggling with memory, concentration and motivation.
Although this reality seems harsh and bitter, it is most certainly not the end. Taking small steps towards sustaining a healthy and positive mindset can prove to be immensely useful in the long run. This doesn’t mean a complete upheaval of the structure of your life! It is entirely possible to cultivate small habits that can lead to a healthier and happier lifestyle, for both your body and mind. One of those habits is positive thinking and gratitude.
In 2015, neuroscientist Glenn Fox carried out an experiment trying to study the neurobiological associations of gratitude. Participants underwent functional MRIs while listening to stories from Holocaust survivors to elicit feelings of gratitude. Some participants were asked to imagine themselves in the situation of these survivors and to reflect on how they would feel if they received lifesaving gifts of food, clothing and shelter, as reported by the survivors. The results of these experiments, published in the Frontiers in Psychology, showed that feelings of gratitude evoked activity in regions of the brain which were associated with stress relief, pleasure and interpersonal bonding.
(Correlation of prefrontal activity with gratitude, Fox 2015)
Having a sense of gratitude for the tiny things in your life can prove to be a powerful, positive experience that helps promote a happier life filled with satisfaction. The act of gratitude is a simple one; taking time to acknowledge things in your life for which you are grateful, and to acknowledge their presence. This feeling of gratefulness could be anything - from your cosy, warm bed on a cold winter morning or the happy licks of your pet dog. Coming home to a delicious meal or the feeling of joy you shared while spending time with your friends! Having a sense of gratitude not only makes us feel better and reminds us of the small joys in life, but it also plays a big role in boosting our neurocognitive powers.
Neuroscientists have discovered that even brief acts of gratitude can have lasting effects on neural activity. Other studies have found increased functional connectivity between different brain networks after mindfulness training. Similarly, a 2017 study published in Scientific Reports showed that gratitude meditation may improve emotional regulation and self-motivation by modulating resting-stage functional connectivity (an approach that helps researchers understand the functioning of a brain at rest) in the regions of the brain that are related to emotions and motivation.
Gratitude can also help people struggling with depression and anxiety issues. A study from Indiana University Bloomington showed that people with mental health issues showed improvement in their mental health scores after spending three months writing letters of gratitude and about their thoughts and feelings.
Although gratitude cannot be assumed as a remedy for dealing with pain and difficulty, it can certainly act as a source of strength to help deal with difficult times in a healthier way, without sacrificing mental peace. Gratitude can help us change the way we understand pain, loss, grief and sadness and also help us confront these issues. If you feel like your life could use a little more positivity, I hope you now know that for a moment of gratitude, your brain will also be thanking you!