The Science of Gratitude (or Why It’s So Healthy to Say Thanks)

When I was a kid, my parents taught me what they call “magic words.” This includes saying please, I’m sorry, and most importantly, thank you. Vague memories of preschool also have a similar lesson; I remember my playmates and I practicing that habit as encouraged by our awesome teacher Mrs. Silverstone. When Nick lets you borrow his toy truck, say thank you. When Amy shares her fruit bites, say thank you. When Karl and Jessica make you join in their game involving color blocks, say thank you.

I myself don’t have a kid yet, but I’m pretty sure I’ll definitely teach my son or daughter the same thing. Especially after reading stuff here and there proving that something like it really exists — the science of gratitude.

In a research study involving around 300 adults who sought psychological counselling services at a university, it has been found that feelings of gratitude do not only help well-adjusted individuals, but also those who had mental health concerns. The participants — most of whom reported clinically low levels of mental health, and struggled with depression and anxiety — were divided into three groups. Although all three groups received counselling services, Group 1 was additionally asked to write one letter of gratitude every week. Group 2 was asked to write about their deepest negative thoughts and feelings. Group 3 didn’t do any writing.

Those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after the writing exercise ended. The researchers then decided to delve into the more physical science of gratitude  and found out that their gratitude exercise had actual lasting effects on the brain. Using an fMRI scanner to analyze how the participants’ brains were processing information, the researchers asked Group 1 (gratitude letter writers) and Group 3 (people who didn’t write) to do “pay-it-forward” tasks. They were to be given money by a benefactor, and they can decide how much of it they were going to give back to a cause of their choice.

The researchers found out that across participants, the brain activity of people who felt grateful and the brain activity of people who felt mostly guilty and obligated to do the task were very distinct. When grateful people donated more, their medial prefrontal cortex became more sensitive. This is a part of the brain associated with learning and decision-making. Interestingly, this higher sensitivity was also more identified in the group who were gratitude letter writers in the previous experiment.

Other studies involving the science of gratitude also yielded fascinating results. It has been linked to better quality of sleep, as well as decreased blood pressure. And in seeming accordance with the neurological findings of the study I described a while ago, gratitude has been linked to a boost in willpower and impulse control, helping people make better decisions like avoiding overeating, exercising more and attending regular checkups.

So don’t be afraid to need help. What’s important is to remember to feel grateful and to express it to the people who are there for you.

If you want to read more about the science of gratitude, here’s a link to various research projects. If you want to participate in a cause that encourages people to get help and feel grateful, check out the BeepBeep Nation App. It provides a platform for people to request for the help they need (called requestors) and for other people to respond (called helpers).

Once the task is done, requestors may give a gratitude tip to their helpers. However, it’s not mandatory, because as we have seen scientifically, gratitude is so much more real if it’s willingly felt and reciprocated. Of course, requestors themselves may also want to be helpers to somebody else if they want to pay it forward. Visit this article to know more about BeepBeep Nation’s take on motivation and gratitude.

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