Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Lacking the commercialization and high expectations (not to mention over-spending) of Christmas, it seems more pure in its celebration of something noble.
And in this case, that’s gratitude.
With a host of benefits to both the thankful and the thanked, gratitude deserves more than one day a year.
But don’t take my word for it. Here are six science-backed ways to improve your health and happiness through gratitude.
Gratitude releases feel-good hormones
When we express gratitude, our brain releases the “feel-good” hormones, dopamine and serotonin. As you may know, dopamine and serotonin are the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, enhancing our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside.
Expressing gratitude also releases endorphins, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of satisfaction and well-being.
Gratitude is good for your heart
Expressing gratitude can make you feel good can “warm” your heart, sure—but being thankful also affects the actual chemical balance of your heart.
Gratitude releases the hormone oxytocin. According to Dr. David Hamilton, “oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates (expands) the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and therefore oxytocin is known as a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure).”
Gratitude strengthens your heart physically and emotionally. Maybe that’s why they say nice, caring people have really big hearts?
It can make work better
This may seem unlikely. But research found that employees who felt and expressed gratitude often experienced the following outcomes:
-less exhaustion and less cynicism
-more proactive behaviors
-higher rating of the health and safety climate
-fewer absences due to illness
-overall higher job satisfaction
An attitude of gratitude simply helps employees and organizations thrive.
Gratitude reduces stress & improves mental health
In our busy, always-on-the-go lives, we’re constantly looking for ways to reduce stress. The solution may be in gratitude.
Results of a study on cultivating appreciation showed lower levels of stress hormones in participants- including a 23% reduction in cortisol and 100 % increase in DHEA/DHEAS levels.
This may be due to the fact that expressing gratitude to others helps us get outside of ourselves and turn our attention to others, and thus be less preoccupied with our own worries. This in turn has shown to slow heart rates, reduce blood pressure, and reduce stress and anxiety.
Additionally, expressing gratitude for the things in your own life (such as through prayer or a gratitude journal) leads to lower stress and depressions, more resilience to life’s setbacks, and even resiliency to suicide.
It can even help you live longer
It’s a big claim, but here’s the science:
According to research, you’re at a greater risk of heart disease and other life-threatening illnesses if you don’t have a strong network of family and friends. Expressing thanks to others has shown to be a powerful affiliate behavior. An “affiliative behavior” is anything that builds relationships, which is an effective strategy for reducing the impact of stressors on the body.
When you’re kind to others, you develop strong, meaningful relationships and friendships.
So, this holiday season, along with wishing the folks around you a Merry Christmas, say “thank you.” Your heart, body, and mind will thank you.