the science of gratitude
Posted on 02/11/2022
Gift-giving traditions can be observed all throughout the modern world and often have their roots in history. More recent research has shown that tradition may not be the only reason we continue to engage in gift-giving traditions, and it's all linked to feel-good responses within the brain. Research has shown that practicing gratitude can strengthen resilience and positively impact mental health. At This Works, we know how stressful the Christmas period can become- from finding the perfect present to remembering to order your Turkey on time. We believe gratitude practice could be just the thing to help us manage our stress throughout the festive season and allow us to immerse ourselves in the festive season.1
So why wait to practice gratitude on Christmas day? Showing, feeling, and saying ‘thank you’ on a daily basis over the months that lead up to the festive holidays, can be one of many practical steps you can take to counter the stresses of the busiest, darkest, and most frenetic times of the year.
. Emmons, R.A, & McCullough, M. E. (2012). The Psychology of Gratitude. In the Psychology of Gratitude.
. Jonathan Z. Berman, Alixandra Barasch, Emma E. Levine, Deborah A. Small. Impediments to Effective Altruism: The Role of Subjective Preferences in Charitable Giving. Psychological Science, 2018; 29 (5): 834 DOI: 10.1177/0956797617747648
. Hazlett, L. I., Moieni, M., Irwin, M. R., Haltom, K. E. B., Jevtic, I., Meyer, M. L., Breen, E. C., Cole, S. W., & Eisenberger, N. I. (2021). Exploring neural mechanisms of the health benefits of gratitude in women: A randomized controlled trial. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 95.
.Fox, G. R., Kaplan, J., Damasio, H., & Damasio, A. (2015). Neural correlates of gratitude. Frontiers in Psychology, 6.
Practicing gratitude in this way activates the medial prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for setting context to your experiences and is able to positively affect the neurotransmitters that are released into your system.
Your gratitude practice works best when you are thinking of a narrative or story that involves you receiving gratitude and has been shown to be more effective in shifting pro-social circuits than expressing thanks. The practice works just as well if your story includes yourself receiving gratitude or you observing someone else receiving gratitude. For the practice to be more effective this story must be a true experience. This is because we are unable to lie to ourselves- if the story is not true activation of the medial prefrontal cortex will be limited and therefore the benefits are not as great.
Write down 3 or 4 bullet points to serve as cues for your gratitude story, include things such as the emotional state of the person, or yourself before gratitude was received and afterward to allow you to emotionally connect with the narrative.
Read or speak your personal gratitude narrative 3 times a week allowing yourself to feel the emotional states.