Why You Should Choose Gratitude Over Resentment

This one is for you, venters. A new study from Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea shows that practicing gratitude over resentment leads to decreased heart rate and a calmer mind. Here’s why you might want to try gratitude journaling instead of venting resentments.

An Experiment: Gratitude Vs. Resentment

For the study, scientists have 32 participants partake in two different five-minute mental training programs using audiovisual instructions. The first mental training is for gratitude while the second one is for resentment. The first minute of each program prompts participants to slow their breathing and relax. Then, to encourage gratitude, participants think about their mother, focusing on how much they love and appreciate her. Alternatively, to feel resentment, users focus on a person or moment that made them angry. Then, heart rate and brain scans were recorded to compare the effects.
Heart rate chart from study on choosing gratitude over resentment
Image: PubMed
Was there a big difference in their findings? You betcha. Indeed, the heart rate of the participants focusing on resentment went up. Conversely, the heart rate of gratitude participants went down. To better understand gratitude at work in the brain, scientists then took MRI scans of the brain to see which parts were activated by the gratitude exercise.

What Gratitude Does To Your Brain

When examining the brain more closely, scientists found that the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and cingulate cortex all showed lowered activity during the gratitude exercise. A quick review of the primary functions of these parts of the brain will show why that’s a good thing.  First, the amygdala plays a primary role in decision making and emotional reactions. Meanwhile, the prefrontal cortex differentiates between conflicting thoughts. Finally, the cingulate cortex deals with emotion formation, processing, and learning. When these areas are active and lit up, your brain is stimulated and working hard. Alternatively, lowered activity in these regions reveals a calmer mind at ease. In other words, practicing gratitude may literally give your brain a big old break.  The study concludes: “Our findings shed light on the effect of gratitude meditation on an individual’s mental well-being and indicate that it may be a means of improving both emotion regulation and self-motivation.” So the next time you’re tempted to vent, consider gratitude journaling instead. You may also improve your relationships, sleep, and self-esteem in the process.
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