The Amazing Effects of Gratitude

An animation explores research into the impact of gratitude on mind and body.

Unlike anger, sadness, or happiness, there’s no “universal expression” or firm definition for gratitude, argues Vanessa Hill. She’s a science communicator with a video series called “Braincraft” that shares insights into the science behind emotions, behavior, and the brain.

Robert Emmons, psychology professor and gratitude researcher at the University of California, Davis, argues gratitude has two key components:

1) we affirm the good things we’ve received, and

2) we also “acknowledge that other people…help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

Hill says it’s only in the past few decades that researchers have started to investigate how we benefit from expressing gratitude and paying it forward — Here are two interesting takeaways from the animation:

We can trigger gratitude in the brain:Researchers studied the brains of participants who were asked to respond (in terms of how grateful they’d feel) to hypothetical scenarios where complete strangers saved their lives. From co-author Glenn Fox, Phd: “when participants reported those grateful feelings, their brains showed activity in a set of regions located in the medial pre-frontal cortex, an area in the frontal lobes of the brain where the two hemispheres meet. This area of the brain is associated with understanding other people’s perspectives, empathy, and feelings of relief.”

Gratitude journals are worth keeping: In studies where participants regularly wrote down what they were grateful for, they reported improvements in mood, health, and overall outlook in life.