The Neuroscience of Gratitude
Yeah, gratitude is awesome … but does it really affect your brain at the biological level? Yup.
You know what the antidepressant Wellbutrin does? Boosts the neurotransmitter dopamine. So does gratitude.
The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine. Additionally, gratitude toward others increases activity in social dopamine circuits, which makes social interactions more enjoyable.
Know what Prozac does? Boosts the neurotransmitter serotonin. So does gratitude.
One powerful effect of gratitude is that it can boost serotonin. Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.
I know, sometimes life lands a really mean punch in the gut and it feels like there's nothing to be grateful for. Guess what? Doesn't matter. You don't have to find anything. It's the searching that counts.
It's not finding gratitude that matters most; it's remembering to look in the first place. Remembering to be grateful is a form of emotional intelligence. One study found that it actually affected neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex. These density changes suggest that as emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient. With higher emotional intelligence, it simply takes less effort to be grateful.
And gratitude doesn't just make your brain happy — it can also create a positive feedback loop in your relationships. So express that gratitude to the people around you—whether they are a trusted colleague, close friend, or someone with a totally different outlook on life.
When you create a Blueprint of We Collaboration Document, you are not only running gratitude circuits, you are capturing them in writing to to make them available when you may not have easy access.
Adapted from the book The Upward Spiral