Neuroscientists and psychologists alike have found that you can improve your well-being on a biological level by asking yourself one important question:
What am I grateful for?
In his book, “The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time,” Dr. Alex Korb explains that the act of gratitude can boost the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Psychology Today explains that dopamine helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.
“The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine,” says Dr. Korb.
More than that, much like a natural Prozac, Korb explains gratitude can boost serotonin, another neurotransmitter that relays messages from one area of the brain to another.
“Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.”
In a study conducted by University of California Riverside psychology researcher and professor Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, participants were asked to keep gratitude journals, where they would record up to five things they were grateful for that occurred over the past week. Some were asked to write in their journal once a week, some three times a week and some not at all.
In the end of the six week study, results found increases in well-being were observed only in participants who wrote down their gratitude once a day as opposed to three times a week or not at all.
Dr. Lyubomirsky expands upon this thought and shares more about how to boost gratitude in her blog.
Expressing gratitude in the midst of a trial or a difficult situation is easier said than done. But Dr. Korb reiterated that one’s well-being could be increased not only in the finding of gratitude, but in the searching.
“Remembering to be grateful is a form of emotional intelligence. One study found that it actually affected neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex,” Korb writes. “These density changes suggest that as emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient.”
“With higher emotional intelligence, it simply takes less effort to be grateful.”
Bachelor’s in psychology students at Assumption can learn more about this topic by taking the course, PSY 230: Positive Psychology: Psychology of Well-being.
In this course students explore different areas of positive psychology, neuroscience, the psychology of positive emotions, traits and more and how they ultimately impact a person’s well-being. Students will read literature and participate in experiential exercises to discover the psychology behind leading a fulfilled life.