Mahatma Gandhi once said that “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” As I watched the CNN Heroes of the Year awards, I became inspired by the individuals who made selfless decisions to help others in need. Ten individual “heroes” were recognized for their selfless contribution, impacting their communities in immeasurable ways.
Giving thanks has neurological and physiological effects on the body. National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers examined blood flow in various brain regions while subjects summoned up feelings of gratitude and found that subjects who showed more gratitude overall had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus region of the brain. This is important because the hypothalamus controls an array of essential bodily functions, including eating, drinking and sleeping. It also has a huge influence on your metabolism and stress levels.
From this evidence on brain activity, it starts to become clear how improvements in gratitude could have such wide-ranging effects from increased exercise and improved sleep to decreased depression and fewer aches and pains. Furthermore, feelings of gratitude directly activated brain regions associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine feels good to get, which is why it’s generally considered the “reward” neurotransmitter. But dopamine is also almost important in initiating action as you are more likely to do the thing you just did. It’s the brain saying, “Oh, do that again.”
Like any other skill, gratitude takes practice. Gratitude can have such a powerful impact on your life because it engages your brain in a virtuous cycle. Your brain only has so much power to focus its attention. The CNN Hero of the Year awards were a good reminder of gratitude in practice, and recognition that it can be done.
Amy Wright was awarded the 2017 CNN Hero of the Year Award and proclaimed to her two children with Down Syndrome: “I would not change you for the world but I will change the world for you”
Do you practice gratitude in your daily life? Leave a comment below about the benefits you have found. Thanks, and Happy Holidays!