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Your Brain on Gratitude

Way back when, your grandmother likely told you to count your blessings’ in some sense of the phrase.

She was onto something.

You’ve probably heard of this new phenomenon. Heck, maybe you have friends that do it. It’s piqued your interest. You’re intrigued. And no, it’s not meditation.

But it is a mental tactic that can improve your inspiration and motivation, as well as get you on that wellness lifestyle full of happiness and bliss.

Surprisingly, the one thing that could substantially improve your mental health includes practicing gratitude. What are you grateful for?

Undeniably, mental health has taken the stage when it comes to healthcare. We’re realizing more and more that the mind and body are linked - in more ways than we ever thought. We’re also realizing that it’s important to take care of the mind, similar to how we take care of our bodies.

Practicing gratitude is part of that.

What is Gratitude?

Gratitude literally involves counting your blessings. You simply list off the things you’re grateful for in your life. What do you appreciate about this life?

Chances are, there’s something. And it doesn’t have to be big. It can be as small as the sun in the sky or that cup of coffee first thing. In fact, keeping it simple is probably better, especially if you’re just starting out.

In one study, they found that participants had significantly improved mental health within just four weeks of practicing gratitude on a regular basis.

And there’s more.

It’s not all about feelings or self-assessment. Practicing gratitude can change your brain and the way it works. I’m not kidding.

The Grateful Brain:

When you practice gratitude, your brain actually begins to process information differently. This gives way to why people who are appreciative and grateful for their life have such a positive attitude when it comes to - well - just about everything else.

Researchers tested their theories about this. They used an fMRI to scan brain activity and to find out what was happening below the surface.

Participants performed a pay-it-forward task. This involved being given money from another person. The person who gave the money would then tell them to pass it on if they felt grateful. The participant would then decide on an amount to pass on.

Interestingly, they found that the individuals who felt more grateful were more likely to pass on more money. In fact, researchers noted an increased neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain. This part of the brain is frequently related to an individual’s decision making and learning abilities.

Consequently, researchers suggested that those who are more grateful also express gratitude more, and that it shows via the parts of the brain they use.

In conjunction with this study, these same researchers also noticed that those who practiced gratitude for a long duration also had more activity in this medial prefrontal cortex area of the brain. This means that practicing gratitude actually has long-term effects, impacting your brain in a positive way.

Moreover, there’s an array of other studies that support these findings. A 2015 study looked at gratitude practice in relation to mental health patients. The participants in the group that practiced gratitude had significantly better mental health. They even tended to use less negative words when expressing themselves.

Now, someone tell me this doesn’t do anything - because I don’t believe it. The science is there, folks. It’s real and tangible evidence that practicing gratitude works.

Gratitude ALSO Makes You Healthier Overall

Get this - researchers also have noticed a higher amount of activity in the hypothalamus in those that practice gratitude. That might not sound like much, but hear me out here.

The hypothalamus plays a critical role in controlling your hormones. In turn, these hormones impact a variety of systems and functions throughout your body, including body temperature, eating, sleeping, and more.

This means that it could go as far as to help improve your sleep, your pain levels, your immune system, and a lot more.

Practicing Gratitude Gets Easier Over Time

When you practice gratitude regularly, you actually want to do it more. Your brain gets a hit of dopamine. It feels good. And your brain wants more of it. So, you do it again and again. And the attitude of gratitude isn’t a bad addiction to get into. So, why not?

How To Practice Gratitude More Often

Then it comes down to the question: How do you do it? How can you bring more gratitude into your life?

  • Practice it every morning. Make a list of at least 5 things (or more) that you’re grateful for every single day.
  • Say thank you - and mean it. Show your appreciation when you feel it. Go out of your way to do so even. It shows the other person your thankful and also the positive effects you get are 100% worth it.
  • Quit being picky about what you’re grateful for - keep it simple. Remember, nothing is too small to be grateful for (I’m serious).
  • Slow down and look around throughout your day. What are you thankful for? Appreciate each moment. Be more mindful - after all, that’s what living a true wellness lifestyle is all about.
  • Notice the little things. You can walk, wave your arms around, talk, and much more. Notice these small things you take for granted every day. Be grateful for them. A lot of people are restricted to a wheelchair for the rest of their lives. A lot of people aren’t given the same blessings as you. These mundane things matter. Show a little appreciation for them! Not sure how to do this? Try Somatic Gratitude.

What Are You Grateful For?

I challenge you to write down 5 things right now. And, know that it does get easier with time - those brain scans even tell us that it does.

If you’re participating in self-care Sunday, read this. Get your gratitude on! Watch your mental health soar. It’s absolutely worth those 5 minutes or tiny moments throughout your day.

Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden

"Believing in yourself is really half the battle," says Krista. Anything is possible and you really can achieve anything you set your mind to, is her motto. Physiotherapist, Piano player, skydiver, yogi, adventure traveler and energetic force of positivity, Krista is herself a (delightful) force to be reckoned with! As... Read More

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