How Gratitude Affects Your Brain
Perhaps you've heard the saying that an "attitude of gratitude" is good for you. Is it just an old wive's tale, or is there any truth to it? This season of thanks and giving seemed like a good time to check the research and find out. Here's what I learned about how practicing gratitude affects your brain.
Your Brain Benefits from Gratitude
According to an article on PositivePsychology.com,1 practicing gratitude has several positive impacts on the brain. For example, practicing gratitude brings about more happiness and even improves physical health. Gratitude has this effect on the brain for many different reasons. It reduces fear and anxiety by regulating the production of stress hormones, it enhances the release of neurotransmitters that produce happiness, and it actually fosters cognitive restructuring through positive thinking. That's pretty amazing.
I know in my life when things are difficult, focusing on gratitude has helped. This Thanksgiving is going to be especially tough for my family because my grandmother died over the summer and this is our first holiday without her. We plan to celebrate the day by having gratitude for the family she created, the gifts she gave us throughout her life, and the positive impact she had on us all. I hope that by sharing and expressing gratitude, it will help soften some of the grief we are bound to feel from her absence.
Gratitude Changes the Way Your Brain Functions
The article on PositivePsychology.com also shared some pretty incredible brain functions that are impacted by a gratitude practice. Studies show that expressing gratitude through letter-writing or journaling can help release toxic emotions and improve mental health symptoms. There are even physical health benefits to practicing gratitude like pain reduction and improved sleep quality. Perhaps most remarkably, the article noted, "Gratitude does change the neural structures in the brain, and make us feel happier and more content."
With all this in mind, you might be ready to begin your own gratitude practice. Here are some of the ways I practice gratitude that have been the most helpful to me:
- Keeping a gratitude journal: I include gratitude for myself in my gratitude journal. By including gratitude for the good things in my life and for my choices/actions, I've found I'm not just more positive, but I also think more positively about me.
- Sharing my gratitude with others: When my kids were little, I always had them tell me one good thing that happened at school each day. This helped them get in a mindset of noticing the good and sharing it with others. My husband and I still do this today when we share about our day at work each evening.
- Expressing gratitude for my body: I have chronic pain, and when I stopped being angry at my body and started telling my aching parts how thankful I was for their hard work despite my medical conditions, I noticed a decrease in my pain.
Practicing gratitude really can have a significant impact on your health and wellbeing. What gratitude practices work best for you?
- Chowdhury, M.R., "The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How it Affects Anxiety & Grief." PositivePsychology.com, November 19, 2019.
Green, H. (2019, November 27). How Gratitude Affects Your Brain, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, June 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingablissfullife/2019/11/how-gratitude-affects-your-brain