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Our Brains on Gratitude


All month long in May we are calling for Americans from coast to coast to share their appreciation for those who serve(d) through words, actions or reflections. 

As we think about the simple act of expressing gratitude, we can’t ignore the fact that it just makes you feel good. But is there actual science behind that? 

What is it about being thankful to others – or receiving appreciation from others – that creates a positive effect in our brains and bodies? We dug into the research to understand just what happens when you give and receive appreciation. 


Numerous studies, including many by preeminent gratitude researcher, Robert Emmons, indicate that practicing gratitude and showing appreciation daily has the potential to: 

— Reduce cardiac diseases, inflammation, and neurodegeneration 

— Help individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, and burnout

— Improve the sleep-wake cycle and enhances mood – ultimately helping with insomnia and indirectly helping with substance abuse/self medication, and eating disorders

— Improve chronic pain, productivity, focus, empathy, communication and relationships


Another study focused on analyzing the brain’s reaction to receiving appreciation uncovers why it feels good to be recognized. Here’s the high-level overview of what happens in our brain and body when receiving appreciation:

  1. Person receives appreciation. 
  2. Hypothalamus is triggered, which is a part of the brain that controls eating, sleeping, and the release of dopamine. Dopamine is the hormone that is tied to movement, motivation, memory and rewards. 
  3. Dopamine encourages the brain and body to be productive, work hard and perform better.


To put it simply, the effects of gratitude on the brain make it a win-win for both the giver and the receiver. So what’s stopping you from practicing it more?

We have a number of ways you can join us in May for Military Appreciation Month, including a simple opportunity to send an anonymous letter of appreciation to a veteran you know. 


Article Sources: Reference 1 | Reference 2 | Reference 3