Gratitude & Your Brain

Gratitude & Your Brain

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, we can expect to hear the words thankful and gratitude much more. For some, the shift towards gratitude during the holidays can feel surface-level and fleeting. How can we make gratitude a part of our daily lives that lasts throughout the year and not just something we say during the holidays? Why does it even matter?

There are a lot of benefits of gratitude, and studies have proven this. Some studies split a group of people into two smaller groups. Group A would practice gratitude daily and focus on the positives for a certain amount of time, and Group B would not practice any type of gratitude. They found that the people in the group that practiced gratitude felt happier and healthier than the group who continued to focus on the negatives in their lives. This is because gratitude activates the part of your brain that produces serotonin (the happy hormone) and dopamine (the pleasure hormone). Serotonin helps with sleep, mood, emotions, metabolism, appetite, cognition, and concentration. Dopamine can help with mood, sleep, and learning. So we can see that gratitude has more benefits than simply feeling more thankful and joyful; it can also help with mood regulation, sleep, focus, appetite, and more.

The way we think can be rewired because of our brains’ flexibility (or plasticity). If we are used to constantly thinking negatively, our brains will become conditioned to have negative default thoughts. But suppose we train our brains to think more positively and create a habit of being more positive and grateful. In that case, our thoughts will become more positive, causing our emotions, behaviors, and outlook to be more positive.

“It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” – Brother David Steindl-Rast

How To Make Gratitude a Daily Practice:

(Do these every day)

  • Write down 1–5 things you are grateful for in a journal. Crosswinds Tip: write down your daily “gratitudes” on sticky notes and put them in a big container, like a jar or vase. At the end of the year, read through all the notes to remember how great your previous year was! Then, you can put them in an album or scrapbook.
  • Take a photo of something you’re grateful for and put each photo in a digital album on your phone or print them out for a physical album.
  • Go around the dinner table with your family and say what you’re grateful for that day.
  • Pray, meditate, and practice mindfulness. Crosswinds Tip on Mindfulness: If you don’t know where to start, try Wordless Watching. Wordless Watching is where we observe our surroundings, let our thoughts come and go without any emotion or judgment attached to them, and simply experience the present moment.
  • Expose yourself to positive and uplifting people and media. Observe the music you listen to, shows you watch, or people you hang around.
  • Walk around your home and point out everything you are thankful for.
  • Tell at least one person every day that you’re grateful for them and why.

Soon, these new daily practices will become a habit, and this habit will become a part of you. Because ultimately, what takes up our time and attention every day becomes who we are.

What could your life look like if you lived with a more grateful heart and positive mindset? Would your mood improve? Would your self-esteem improve? Would your relationships improve?

 

Start by making small marginal improvements every day so that you can live a more fulfilling and joyful life. Choose one of the practices listed above, or create your own and practice it for the month of November. At the end of the month, assess how you feel and think. Could you make gratitude a daily practice throughout the whole year and not just around Thanksgiving?

 

If you are feeling depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, or stressed and can’t seem to shake it – that’s okay. Reach out to Crosswinds Counseling. Crosswinds therapists have helped thousands of people overcome difficulties and regain self-confidence. We can help you too. Schedule an appointment today.

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