Research has proven many significant benefits in cultivating gratitude for mental and physical health. Studies show that the practice of gratitude can increase happiness levels by an average of 25 percent and overall health by, for example, increasing the quantity and quality of sleep. Beneficial outcomes can be achieved by such simple practices as praying, writing in a gratitude journal, placing a thankful phone call, making a mental gratitude list, or writing a thank-you letter to someone.
Gratitude is primarily studied by self-reporting, but, science is turning out increasingly promising results measuring hard scientific data, such as decreasing cortisol and stress levels, heart rate variability, and brain activation patterns and increases in beneficial neurochemicals. Some studies are showing that gratitude can actually rewire the frontal lobes.
Feeling grateful increases your brain’s production of dopamine. Dopamine is a feel-good neurotransmitter that’s part of the brain’s reward and pleasure-seeking circuit. People with abnormally low dopamine levels may have impaired thinking and memory and slowed reaction times. A lack of dopamine causes the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Dopamine is also linked to depression, anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure, and lack of motivation.
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