The science of giving thanks

The science of giving thanks

Each year around the holidays, I, like many people surrounding me, become increasingly aware of how thankful we are for what we possess and the lives we are blessed to lead. My family’s tradition is to say what we are thankful for at Thanksgiving dinner. We listen to the sermon about giving thanks. Our whole world talks about joy and the “holiday spirit.” And every year when the time for giving thanks comes, I feel lighter, happier, more grounded in who I am.

But does the actual act of giving thanks have anything to do with that?

In an article from Psychology Today called “The Grateful Brain,” a multitude of studies were presented showing that being more thankful improves a wide variety of parts of your life.

One study showed that “the young adults assigned to keep gratitude journals showed greater increases in determination, attention, enthusiasm, and energy compared to the other groups.” The “other groups” were groups that were told to keep daily journals about why they were better off than those around them. Imagine, once a day simply writing down a few things you are grateful for and becoming more determined, attentive, and enthusiastic.

In another study conducted by a group of Chinese researchers, the effect of sleep and thankfulness on people’s levels of anxiety and depression were studied. Their research found that an increased level of thankfulness is directly associated with better sleep and lower levels of anxiety and depression.

A plethora of studies that have been conducted show the relation between being thankful and the increase in levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the “reward” neurotransmitter that feels good when released. When you are grateful, the release of dopamine causes you to get that happy feeling; and, wanting to experience that feeling again, your body tells you to continue to be grateful.

But every year, February rolls around and the time for giving thanks comes to an end. We return to our grumbling, our complaints, our pride. But, suppose we didn’t. Suppose we remembered to always be thankful for every sunrise, for every sunset, for the first snow, and the last. I wonder what the world would look then.