Thanking someone may not just make them feel good – it may also change your brain. Researchers say words of gratitude can play a part in shaping our neural pathways.
A 2009 study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) showed that our hypothalamus is activated when we display acts of kindness or when we feel gratitude.
One study by researchers at the University of California at Davis randomly assigned three tasks to participants. One group recorded things that were bothering them and kept track of neutral, unemotional events, while the other group described things they were grateful for. After ten weeks, the participants in the gratitude group had exercised more and physically felt 25% better than those in the other group.
In a similar study, the group that completed gratitude exercises each day gave more emotional support to friends and family. And in another study, a group of Chinese researchers found that expressing higher levels of gratitude were associated with better sleep, and lower levels of anxiety and depression.
One more thing that will make you grateful for gratitude: it’s also addictive. Acts of kindness and feelings of gratitude flood our brains with dopamine, giving us a natural high. This motivates us to experience that feeling again and become more inclined to give thanks.
How to become more grateful:
Write down three things you’re grateful for. The best time to do this is first thing in the morning, or just before you go to sleep at night.
Write someone a thank you note. Give it to them, or even better, read it to them.
Tell someone you appreciate them each day.
Look in the mirror and think about what you like about yourself or something you did well.
Count your blessings. Pick a time each week to sit down and reflect on what went right and what you are grateful for.
Don’t have time to write things down? Thank someone mentally. It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
Gratitude is no cure-all, but can help improve your life and overall happiness.