Thanks for reading!

Thanking a higher power for the beauty of our lives or when things go well is something often jumped upon as absurd.  After all, a higher intelligence would hardly care if we thanked them or not.  Unfortunately, like other criticisms of instinctive spiritual ideas, this dismissive approach does not take into account our biology.

I was amazed to read today about gratitude and its effect on the brain:

Actually ‘giving thanks’ – expressing gratitude to another person, whether verbally, physically, or even in the form of a letter – has profound effects on us, not just mentally but physically.

Ungrateful people are actually cheating themselves, scientists believe.

The mere act of thanking people releases chemicals within the body including ‘reward’ chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin – a neurotransmitter that makes us feel serene and happy – and oxytocin, the ‘cuddle’ hormone that loving couples release when together.

‘If thankfulness were a drug,’ says Dr P Murali Doraiswamy, of Duke University, ‘ It would be the world’s best selling product. It affects every major organ system.’

Stress hormones such as cortisol are also reduced by the simple act of thanking someone.  Another study at Kent State University, Salem, measured the effect.

One of the most grateful people alive

Steve Toepfer had a sample group of students write letters of gratitude to people they knew – thanking them for something that was important to them.  Toepfer ensured the ‘thanks’ weren’t for trivial events such as a gift, but for genuine, meaningful events.

One group of students didn’t write letters, one did.  The group that wrote the letters found that their levels of life satisfaction increased – and that those who were experiencing mild depression found that their symptoms abated.

The key, it seems, is genuine gratitude: your body has to ‘know’ that a positive event has occurred, and that you’ve responded.

The effect is so measurable, it can even be used to help people with mild depression, says Doraiswamy. Simply being polite can ‘trigger’ the brain to release ‘reward’ chemicals and make people feel happier.

‘I find the strategy can be particularly helfpul for some people with mild depression and for those with poor psychosocial coping skills,’ he says.

Toepfer advises that gratitude isn’t just a strategy – it’s a resource that we shouldn’t ignore.

‘We are all walking around with an amazing resource, gratitude,’ Toepfer told Livescience. ‘We all have it, and we need to use it to improve our quality of life.’  []

Interesting how the body somehow knows what is genuine gratitude and what is not.  Why is this not called intelligence?  Do the retrotransposons changing the brain cell DNA log this sort of activity, again passing on a benefit to the next generation?  For thousands of generations man has progressed without technology, and geniuses have flourished from age to age.  Now we’ve lost the geniuses, and we seem to be degenerating genetically at an alarming rate – could selfishness be partly to blame?

The birth of genius not always from religious families, but always from those with a strong moral background must mean that the emotional habits of the parents get coded into the brain of the children.  Greed and materialism thus leads to its own demise.  Don’t blame God – maybe we should blame a fat wallet and an ambition for more wealth!

But, putting aside the “how” for now – although the neurotransmitter processes are very interesting – why should we give thanks for another day of this life we have, for the fresh air, the finely balanced ecosystem, the warming sun, the Autumn colours, the provision of every kind of food and drink that we need, and our friends and family, and the endless starry expanse?

‘Cos the scientists now confirm – it’s good for us!

About iain carstairs

I have a great interest in both scientific advances and the beauty of religion, and created about 15 years ago with the aim of finding common ground between the scientist and the believer, and to encourage debate between the two sides.
This entry was posted in Brain damage, Designs in nature, Evolution, Genetic damage, God, Gratitude, Retrotransposons, Science and Religion, The Brain and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Thanks for reading!

  1. Peter says:

    Given the subject of this article, I just wanted to say thanks for your writings on science and religion. As a college student (biology/chemistry major) I too have an interest in science and how it can complement spirituality. The question of whether or not the existence of a God could be rationally explained has weighed heavily on my mind for quite some time.

    I soon grew weary of trying to find answers to this question by listening to the polarized, extreme viewpoints that dominate the internet. It became frustrating to find that such a big question was being reduced to a debate between atheists and religious fundamentalists. I then came across this blog and realized that there are men in this world willing to be an advocate for the voice of reason, that possess the common sense and intellectual capacity/curiosity to find the “common ground” that many, like myself, are searching for.

    In my personal quest to find answers, or simply insight so as to better understand this question that seemed to dominated every second of leisure time I had, I made a promise to myself that I would–as Socrates put it–“Follow the argument wherever it leads.” It seems to have led me to a clever blog written by a man asking himself the same questions that I have been contemplating. Thanks again.

    • Many thanks, and I feel very gratified to hear it. I think on Thursday we had 3,000 hits but you can never really tell what people think until someone writes a comment; I feel that above all else, scientists and spiritual people share enthusiasm – enthusiasm for the wonders of life. Each person has a different viewpoint or else one of them is redundant, and everybody wants to find the truth, no matter how strange it might turn out to be. Our planet surely needs all the enthusiasm it can get, and how great that there are so many people willing to look to the future with an open mind. Thanks again for writing!

  2. Ms. Grundy says:

    Thanks for writing!

  3. Sure, have some oxytocin – it’s on me – enjoy!

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