Gratitude is a great feeling. It brings peace and tranquility, and the sense of appreciation of what has happened to you or has been done for you gives a great feeling. A feeling of appreciation also gives a feeling of gratitude.
Although the feeling of gratitude has been known for thousands of years, it has been a long time for science to investigate this emotional expression. Appreciation, of course, is quite intangible and difficult to measure. What has been researched is the link between positive emotions and our physical health.
The power of the heart
The heart has been closely woven into our language for centuries. We use terms like “follow your heart” and “I love you with all my heart” without a trace of sarcasm. We use expressions such as “heartache” and “broken heart” even when we are just physically healthy. What makes our heart play such a central role when – as we learned back in school – it is just a pump that circulates the blood in our body?
Aristotle already thought that our hearts were the most necessary organ of man. He thought it controls all functions and is central to thought and emotion. The ancient Egyptians also regarded the heart as the center of all life. Numerous religions often refer to the heart in their sacred texts.
What has led the heart to take such a central role in describing feelings and emotions? Why do we connect our hearts with subjects of intuition, spirituality, and connection?
What is Neurocardiology?
Neurocardiology is the science that examines the neurological network of the heart. The heart has its own nervous system and contains thousands of neurons, the same type of cells as in our brains.
This branch in science discovered that the heart also has an intelligence of its own. The “heart brain” and the “head brain” maintain a very close relationship and constantly exchange information with each other.
There are more nerve connections between the heart and the brain than any other system in the body. 90% of these connecting nerves run from the heart to the brain. This means that the heart sends more signals to the brain than the other way around. These neural pathways constantly send out signals that affect the functioning of the brain’s cognitive and emotional centers. And this, in turn, has an influence on our physical and mental condition in general.
Listening to your heart
Learning to listen to your heart is actually the most valuable thing we can do in life. The heart connects us with our innermost self, our intuition, and our feelings. The pattern of our heartbeat can even tell us how we feel emotionally.
We’ve always thought that a steady heart rate like a metronome means we have a healthy heart function. Surprisingly, the opposite is the case.
Our heart rate varies constantly. The interval between each heartbeat is slightly longer or shorter each time; it’s only about milliseconds. This interval between heartbeats is called heart rate variability, or HRV for short. According to the leading physiologists in this branch of research, these ultra-small heart rate variations are a sign of emotional resilience and promote behavioral flexibility in humans.
The HeartMath Institute, a research and education organization, has published hundreds of peer-reviewed articles in the field of neurocardiology. Heart rate variability is affected by a variety of factors, including breathing patterns, exercise, and even our thoughts. The way we experience our emotions has been shown to have a powerful and significant effect on our hearts’ changing rhythms.
This also explains why cognitive behavioral therapy is such an effective way to become less stressful and more emotionally balanced. You can also influence the HRV by consciously breathing and learning to direct your emotions mindfully.
Although HeartMath’s science is still relatively young, positive emotions can generate a fluid, rhythmic and coherent pattern (heart coherence), while negative emotions result in a chaotic and disjointed way.
Heart coherence and gratitude
What do you think is the most influential positive emotion in heart coherence generation? Gratitude! Indeed! Gratitude is about appreciating any situation, positive or negative. Denying negative emotions is deeply ingrained in our Western culture. For example, a man should not cry, and many women also quietly hide in a corner when they are sad.
And, of course, it is easier to be grateful for all the positive that falls into our lap. Yet, it’s also valuable to make a reframe at times when we are faced with less pleasant things in life. To do this, we can learn to develop the ability to appreciate the things that challenge us, so we become more resilient and more flexible in the long run.
According to the HeartMath Institute, experiencing positive emotions is very important in achieving good health, physical, psychological, and emotional. By consciously directing your emotions and experiencing gratitude, you can achieve heart coherence with numerous health benefits, including increased resilience to stress, better access to your intuition, improved memory, clearer thinking, more energy, and even a better hormone balance.
Gratitude and heart coherence
You can consciously generate a feeling of gratitude. By literally conditioning the brain, you can experience a sense of gratitude “on-demand”. The NLP technique Anchoring can be very helpful in this regard. The plasticity of our brains is amazing, and by breaking through existing patterns, however difficult that may be, you can build new neural networks endlessly.
We can change our entire lives as we learn and unlearn. By consciously and purposefully experiencing a sense of gratitude, we can transform neural connections that usually evoke a negative emotion into a positive feeling. We can experience heart coherence. This, in turn, supports good health.
Conscious and regular gratitude is free, easy to learn, and incredibly influential in our well-being. With a little dedication, we can learn to cultivate this powerful emotion in any situation. We can feel gratitude for our loved ones, beautiful nature, clean water, but also our challenges in life.
If you want to know how much you are able to experience gratitude and heart coherence, you can measure this with a monitor developed by HeartMath, the Inner Balance Trainer, or the emWave2. These devices measure and display your heart rate variability. The great thing about this is that the more you practice, the easier you can bring yourself into a state of heart coherence.
Experiencing gratitude, step-by-step
Step 1: Focus on the area of the heart. You can make this easier by putting your hands on the heart area and closing your eyes. Imagine your breath flowing in and out of your heart or chest area. Breathe a little more slowly and deeply than you normally do.
Step 2: Experience a feeling of gratitude. Consider, for example, a certain person who is in your life, a pet, or how wonderful it felt on vacation at that beautiful lake. Feel how this appreciation feels and experience it as intensively as possible. You may have an association with certain sounds or a certain smell that can enhance the experience. The better you can empathize, the greater your feeling of gratitude will be.
Using these two simple steps, you can experience heart coherence after practice in less than a minute. The HeartMath Institute has a wide range of exercises that can help you increase heart rate variability, achieve heart coherence, and be more emotionally resilient in life.