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The Grateful Heart: The Psychophysiology of Appreciation

Rollin McCraty, Ph.D. and Doc Childre

Chapter published in: The Psychology of Gratitude, edited by R. A. Emmons and M. E. McCullough. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004: 230-255.

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Throughout history and across diverse cultures, religions, and spiritual traditions, the heart has been associated with spiritual influx, wisdom, and emotional experience, particularly with regard to other-centered, positive emotions such as love, care, compassion, and gratitude. Current research provides evidence that the heart does indeed play a role in the generation of emotional experience, suggesting that these long-surviving associations may be more than merely metaphorical. In this chapter, we discuss a model of emotion that includes the heart, together with the brain, nervous, and hormonal systems, as fundamental components of a dynamic, interactive network from which emotional experience emerges. Further, we review research that has identified new physiological correlates associated with the experience of heartfelt positive emotions, with a specific focus on appreciation. We discuss the use of heart-based positive emotion-focused techniques to help people self-induce and sustain states of appreciation and other positive emotions. Finally, we summarize the outcomes of several studies in which these techniques have been introduced in organizational, educational, and clinical settings.