Whether it’s exercise or connecting with friends, there are many ways to prime yourself to feel good. Today, we’re going to focus on the practice of gratitude. From scientific research, we know that routinely practicing gratitude can serve as a gateway to positive emotions. Here are three specific ways gratitude can bring more feel-good emotions into your life.
Gratitude helps your brain process other positive emotions, including joy: Practicing gratitude regularly for at least two to eight weeks can make you more likely to experience positive emotions such as excitement, pride and joy. When you list what you feel fortunate for having in your life, it can increase dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain, which serve as key neurotransmitters that give you feelings of contentment. The more you practice gratitude, the more our happiness-producing neural pathways strengthen.
Gratitude helps savor positive experiences for a longer period of time: A study from the International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology shows gratitude helps you “maintain elevated levels of positive emotions” in the short term. In the study, participants were asked to write about a recent achievement. Then a gratitude intervention was employed asking participants to list factors for which they were grateful for that contributed to their achievement for 15 minutes (i.e. the “gratitude intervention”).
The study found that the gratitude intervention led to elevated positive emotions at a subsequent stage compared to those in the control group. That is to say that by expressing gratitude for a positive experience, you are better able to savor the experience.
Gratitude and joy are symbiotic: A study in The Journal of Positive Psychology found that gratitude and joy work hand in hand. Researchers conclude there is “an intriguing upward spiral between gratitude and joy: as one cultivates the disposition for gratitude, this increases the frequency of experiences of joy, which in turn should foster the disposition of joy, thus increasing gratitude.” While no specific gratitude intervention was used, and trait gratitude was measured here, the correlation between gratitude and joy clearly reveals a symbiotic relationship that could be replicated in all of us.