Have you ever heard of a gratitude festival? Truthfully I don’t know if they actually exist, but one is mentioned in my favorite Sci-Fi series. After reading this blog, we all might just want to get together and start one. So, how does your Friday look?
Okay, I’m jumping the gun—call it a character trait of leaping before looking. So what am I talking about today? Gratitude Platitudes: how the act of giving thanks can actually increase your mental health! That’s right, folks. It turns out that Mom and Dad’s incessant reminders to say “please” and “thank you” were actually teaching you more than just good manners!
Dr. Daniel Amen, an M.D. and rather prolific writer (with over 2 dozen books under his belt, some of which have featured on the New York Bestsellers List) studies the human brain and has discovered that “the simple things like diet and exercise will improve brain function as well as some unexpected things like gratitude, positive thinking and good sleep.”
In fact, in one of Dr. Amen’s studies he found that a subject who focused on feeling grateful and expressing that gratitude experienced an increase in blood flow and electrical activity in the brain! Beyond that, your pituitary glands release a number of neurotransmitters and endorphins when you express gratitude.
Now, permit me to take off my glasses for a second and scratch my head. I’m not Mr. Science after all; I don’t completely comprehend that last sentence, and I’m man enough to admit it. So if you did, go ahead and skip the rest of this paragraph. Or, if, like me, you’re not quite sure what the medical-babble means, lets go through it together. The pituitary gland sits at the base of the brain and secretes various hormones that regulate the body’s growth and function throughout our lifetimes, things like blood pressure, metabolism, testosterone/estrogen—actually pretty much all the important stuff. Neurotransmitters are super complicated (at least to this layman), but essentially they are the means by which parts of your brain communicate with each other and facilitate the movement of your body on the whole. Just the process of typing a word would require an unknown number of neurotransmitters, and my guess is, that unknown number would be a lot. Lastly, endorphins are a specific type of neurotransmitter that forms the basis of happiness and a feeling of well-being.
And Dr. Amen isn’t the only one researching this. Professor Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis has conducted several studies on people of various age ranges and degrees of health, and discovered that around 75% of his subjects who expressed their gratitude showed a steady improvement in their amounts of sleep and exercise, and on happiness tests. (I’ll admit I’m not sure what a happiness test is, but it sounds like it could be fun. I’d be interested in knowing my Happiness Quotient wouldn’t you?)
So at the beginning of this, I brought up the concept of a gratitude festival, and now I’m thinking it’s an even better idea than before. Gratitude is good for the body and mind, and adding your peers to the equation makes it good for the spirit. For better or worse, though, I don’t think we can hold such a festival over the interwebs—I mean, I just can’t picture how I’d ride that giant wheel over the computer—so what can we do to celebrate and embrace that gratitude to help our bodies be at their best?
Well it’s really simple: write. Write a simple list of all the things you’re thankful for just as you’re getting ready to lie down to sleep tonight. I’ll even list a couple things right now…
- I’m grateful for my family, my friends, my health, my home, the opportunities I’ve been given, and the unexpected joys to come.
- And I’m eternally grateful to you, the reader, for giving me the opportunity to enhance your day and put a smile on your face.