I recently came across a really solid article titled, “The Neuroscience of Gratitude and Effects on the Brain” that provided a good overview of how gratitude positively affects us physiologically, and it got me thinking more deeply about something I practice quite regularly.
At its core, gratitude is a ‘state of thankfulness’
It’s a powerful emotion that can positively alter and change the way you view the world, how you view others, your own circumstances, and provide a host of physiological benefits.
Let’s first dive a bit more deeply into the actual neuroscience of gratitude, how a more consistent practice can improve your overall health, and then finish by outlining some ways you can incorporate more active gratitude into your life.
The Neuroscience of Gratitude
From a neuroscience perspective, gratitude activates a number of brain regions that are associated with positive emotions, social connection, and self-regulation, which are all areas I’m sure many of us wouldn’t mind improving in our own lives.
Prefrontal Cortex: This is the part of the brain that is responsible for planning, decision-making, and emotional regulation. Gratitude activates the prefrontal cortex, which helps us to focus on the positive aspects of our lives and to cope with stress more effectively.
Amygdala: This is the part of the brain that is responsible for processing emotions, such as fear and anger. Gratitude helps to reduce activity in the amygdala, which can lead to a decrease in stress and anxiety.
Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex: This is the part of the brain that is associated with social connection and empathy. Gratitude activates the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which helps us to feel connected to others and to appreciate the good things in our lives.
In addition to these brain regions, gratitude has also been shown to have a number of other positive physiological effects on the body, beyond the brain.
Reduced Stress: Gratitude can help to reduce stress by activating the prefrontal cortex and decreasing activity in the amygdala.
Improved Sleep: Gratitude can help to improve sleep by reducing stress and promoting relaxation.
Increased Pain Tolerance: Gratitude can help to increase pain tolerance by activating the prefrontal cortex and decreasing activity in the amygdala.
Boosted Immune System: Gratitude can help to boost the immune system by lowering blood pressure and increasing levels of antibodies and white blood cells.
Reduced Risk of Depression: Gratitude can help to reduce the risk of depression by increasing positive emotions and decreasing negative emotions.
Overall, gratitude is a powerful emotion that has a number of positive effects on the brain and overall health. Practicing gratitude on a regular basis can help to improve your mood, reduce stress, improve sleep, boost your immune system, and reduce your risk of depression.
Simple Ways to Practice More Gratitude
Write it down. Keeping a gratitude journal or notebook is a really easy, great way to get you thinking more actively about what you are grateful for.
In the morning, write down three things you are grateful for, to better start your day with more perspective.
When you do this, you better set the tone for the day for your brain. This is where the stress mitigation aspect of gratitude comes into play. When more minor things go wrong during, and throughout your day, (and they will) when you begin your day by reminding yourself of some larger, more meaningful things you have to be grateful for, this tends to supersede the more minor inconveniences of the day, such as being stuck in traffic, running late for something, or someone screwing something up that then affects you.
In the evening, before you go to bed, write down three things that happened to you that day that were amazing, or that you’re thankful for.
These can be small things like someone praising you for your work on something, getting a little extra personal time with your children, or so, so many other things.
This practice helps you end your day with a different dose of perspective from the morning; a dose of perspective that can help shine some light on even the crummiest of days, as you can always find three things to be grateful for. In fact, this exercise is probably even more important to do on the crummiest of days.
This is all research backed, as keeping a gratitude journal has been shown to reduce and help mitigate stress, improves the quality of sleep, and builds emotional awareness (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005).
Send “thank you” notes. Take the time to express your gratitude to people who have made a positive difference in your life by writing and sending/giving them a handwritten thank you note.
Spend time with loved ones. Gratitude is a social emotion, so make time to connect with the people you care about.
Focus on the positive. Pay attention to the good things in your life, and try to focus on them even when things are tough. Another way to do this is to find the positive side of things that are stressing you out, or things that you recognize you are viewing negatively.
For example, I am incredibly grateful for the privilege of being able to write this newsletter blog for you every week.
I work a pretty busy schedule trying to run and build a growing business, and that comes with a lot of stressors in and of itself. More often than I’d prefer, I find myself with some very late nights, or very early mornings writing this blog due to a demanding schedule.
Now, I could feel sorry for myself during these late nights and early mornings. It’s very easy to do so in these trivial moments of discomfort.
However, I remind myself continually of how grateful I truly am to be able to write this blog. That I have the mental and physical capabilities to do so, that I have the passion for optimizing human performance and longevity, and that there are readers who actually may find some value in what I have to share.
I’m grateful for the accountability of knowing I need to deliver this every Friday, as it keeps me actively learning, researching, and applying to my own life, which makes me better, and keeps me healthier.
This is just one example of how maintaining a dose of perspective through gratitude improves a situation in my life. Imagine how much our lives could improve if we approached our daily lives like this more and more.
Even small acts of gratitude can make a big difference in your life over time.
In the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, Eos asked Zeus to grant her husband Tithonus eternal life. Zeus obliged and granted Tithonus eternal life.
She forgot to ask for eternal youth as well.
So Tithonus continued to live on eternally, but in the process, continued aging and aging, and his body withered away.
Longevity isn’t about living as long as possible if it’s strung along, filled with disease and health issues, and at the expense of your relative quality of life.
Longevity is about living as long as possible WITHOUT disease or any major health issues.
Most Americans die a slow death from what Dr. Peter Attia refers to in his book Outlive as the “4 Horsemen”: Cancer, Heart Disease, Type II Diabetes, and Alzheimer’s/Dementia.
All of the deaths from these conditions are years, oftentimes, decades in the making.
Even if someone dies from a heart attack, which objectively is a fast, tragic death, it was, in most cases, a result from heart disease that was, again, years, or even decades in the making. Most heart attack deaths are not from genetic defects.
If you are reading this, chances are, you have cancerous cells somewhere inside your body. I know, that as I write this, there’s a decent enough chance that I have cancerous cells somewhere inside my body.
When you get diagnosed with “cancer”, what that really means is that the cancer inside your body has now metastasized to a point where it’s a problem, and potentially life-threatening.
But prior to that, probably years before that, it was a microscopic clump of cancerous cells that weren’t yet a life-threatening problem, but they were there.
They now say they can detect symptoms of Alzheimer’s 25 years, possibly even more in advance, if one is looking/paying attention.
And you don’t just wake up with 100% insulin resistance, and thus diabetic. It’s a process of years, decades, that you slowly build up insulin resistance.
This is why people are “pre-diabetic” before they are “diabetic”.
The rub is, the way we approach medicine in the U.S. is to wait for something to become a problem, then we try to treat it, oftentimes, when it’s too late.
It’s “reactive medicine”.
This is great when you break a leg, as there’s no need to fix it until it’s broken.
However, when most of our deaths are a slow, progressive death, waiting for certain conditions to become life-threatening is not exactly the best time to treat it.
So what many call “disease prevention” is actually “proactive medicine”.
This is what it means to have a focus on longevity.
Life extension through proactive medicine that fights life-threatening diseases before they become life-threatening.
It’s a mindset.
An approach to life.
And whoever you are, it starts now.
Odds are the vast majority of you reading this don’t smoke.
And of those who don’t smoke, I’d bet the vast majority of those who don’t smoke, do so because you are well aware of the dangers it poses.
The dramatic reduction in smoking has extended the lives without disease of millions and millions of Americans.
So, if you don’t smoke due to the awareness of the many severe long term side effects, you are already doing something with a focus on longevity, to extend your life without disease.
You may not have looked at it this way, but ultimately, you understand longevity, and are probably making decisions already in your life to consciously try to extend it free of disease.
What other small, incremental changes can you start incorporating into your life that when done with consistency over time, will have dramatic effects on your overall longevity?
Apply what Einstein refers to as the 8th wonder of the world, “The Law of Compounding Interest”, with your health.
Start by taking 1 or 2 cold showers a week. As little as 20 seconds of cold water exposure has been shown to have health benefits, and 3-5 minutes is all you need to maximize the full gamut of life-extending benefits from a cold water exposure session.
Do you have access to a sauna, or can you afford an infrared sauna membership package? Try incorporating more sauna time into your life.
Replace even one meal per week that is typically filled with processed food, with whole, organic foods.
Start a regular, heck, even semi-regular gratitude practice.
Try to start improving the quality of our sleep.
Supplement with a whole food-based multivitamin and/or beef organ complex (nature’s multivitamin).
Go for an extra walk or two each week.
Drink high-quality, mineralized water.
Spend more quality time with friends and family.
The list could go on and on.
These are all small, incremental changes you can make to your daily life that will pay dividends in the long run in improving your overall longevity with time.
Apply the same logic as you would to a retirement investment account.
As you chip away with each longevity-focused diet or lifestyle addition, and as they add up and compound over time, over years, you are left with a body and mind that has aged more slowly, with less risk of disease, and thus, most likely, have added years, possibly another decade or two, of quality life.
I’m happy for you.
I am a firm believer in energy, and its effects on others.
And I’m not talking about quantifiable energy.
I’m talking about the (for now) qualitative energy of humans, and how our energy can positively or negatively affect, and impact others.
Ever been around someone who you’d describe as “bad” or “negative energy”?
Or conversely, been around someone with “good” or “positive energy”?
Either way, you can literally feel it.
Science cannot currently quantify.
But you know it’s real.
You can just feel it.
And that feeling, to you, to the person picking up on someone else's energy, feels quite quantitative in some way.
I would consider this the “spirit” that lives inside all of us.
How do we describe someone with a great disposition and approach to life?
Many times, we say, they have a great spirit about them.
Again, you can just feel it.
The first law of thermodynamics states that “energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transferred”
So if we know this to literally be the first, most prominent Law of Thermodynamics, (aka “Science”) what happens to the energy we put out into the world?
Well, it cannot be destroyed, so it’s transferred to others in some way.
Where does your positive energy come from since it cannot be created?
Well, it must be transferred from someone, somewhere else.
Applying this scientific methodology to my own “energy” and how I can transfer it more productively, I want you to know that I’m happy for you.
Whatever that may be. Whatever it is in your life that you are proud of, or happy for yourself for accomplishing.
Just know that I’m happy for you.