Is it possible to “thank” our way into healthier, younger looking skin? According to recent advances in neuroscience, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Being thankful no longer needs to be left to a few mumbled words while passing gravy at the Thanksgiving table. It’s been discovered that the more frequently we express gratitude, or count our blessings, the better we look and feel.
It’s been discovered that the more frequently we express gratitude, or count our blessings, the better we look and feel.
The concept of gratitude as a spiritual practice has been a part of all world religions for millennia. However, when the so-called “new age” movement hit the masses in the 80’s, the idea of practicing gratitude transcended the church, synagogue, and mosque. Suddenly, having an attitude of gratitude became really hip, whether you were religious or not. Today, if you spend a few minutes on Amazon.com, searching the word “gratitude” will generate over 20,000 hits. There are books, inspirational cards, guided meditations, downloadable TedTalks, special journals, apps, and, you guessed it, even a podcast.
Popular mainstream physicians from Dr. Andrew Weil (Harvard University) and Dr. Oz (Columbia University) to neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta (CNN medical reporter) each have endorsed the practice of gratitude as a pathway to better health. Being thankful activates the part of our brain called the hypothalamus which plays a huge role in many of our body’s functions. For one, it increases levels of both dopamine and oxytocin, two powerful neurotransmitters that make us feel happy and lifts our spirits. Oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “cuddle hormone” has the power to calm the heart rate, soothe the mind, and increase the flow of oxygen to the brain. One of the most amazing benefits, however, is its ability to create an emotional bond between two people. This means that although it might be scary at times to tell others why we’re thankful for them, the reward is feeling an even deeper human connection with those around us.
Oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “cuddle hormone” has the power to calm the heart rate, soothe the mind and increase the flow of oxygen to the brain.
Dopamine, on the other hand, is responsible for allowing us to feel pleasure and joy. Often called the “reward” neurotransmitter, it’s addictive and teaches us the powerful lesson of cause and effect. This means that when we do something that releases dopamine, our brains want us to do it again. Practicing gratefulness then only becomes easier and more natural, to the point where we actually go out of our way to look for things we’re grateful for. All in all, our brain experiences a physiological cascade of positive chemical reactions when we simply think about what we’re thankful for, whether that’s the people in front of us or a sunset we’re in the right place to witness. In other words, we feel a natural “high” when we think about the things in our life we are grateful for, no matter how small.
Practicing gratefulness then only becomes easier and more natural, to the point where we actually go out of our way to look for things we’re grateful for.
But there’s more; a posture of gratitude can actually be used as a powerful anti-aging tool as well. The hypothalamus, as we mentioned earlier, is the part of the brain that affects our sleep. So when it’s activated by being grateful, we’re able to fall asleep and stay asleep better, which in turn affects the brightness of our skin. Practicing a posture of gratitude also decreases levels of cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone.” Less stress equals less cortisol, which then increases collagen and decreases the appearance of lines and wrinkles.
In the midst of the holiday season, as we come together to celebrate with the people we love, a posture of gratefulness might come a little easier. It’s a beautiful time of the year that invites us to stop and look around, noticing the people and things we’re grateful for in our life. However, we wonder what it would look like to carry a posture of gratefulness with us in every season, long after the holidays. We believe it will change the way we look and feel, for the better.
Recommended Daily Ritual:
Cultivating a posture of gratitude can happen any place at any time.
We invite you to begin each morning by closing your eyes and thinking of 3 things you’re grateful for. If you feel so inclined, write them down in a journal or share your list with a few close friends and encourage them to do the same.
This holiday season, we're thankful for time with friends, family, and leftovers by warm fires on cold, clear nights.