Have you ever seen images of the brain on gratitude?
While most of us are well aware that the brain on drugs looks different from a normal brain, it turns out that when we experience gratitude and positivity, it also changes the brain.
But this time in a good way.
Your Brain On Gratitude
Gratitude has a positive impact on health and well-being. And it all starts in the brain.
Think about the last time you were feeling tired. (It could be right now!) If you continually think or say, “I’m tired,” you’re going to keep feeling tired. Or if you say or think you’re going to bomb in an interview, there’s a good chance you will.
On the other hand, when you choose to notice the good around you and engage in grateful and hopeful thoughts, you’ll feel more confident, energized, and attract more positivity.
In measuring the brain activity of people thinking and feeling gratitude, scientists note an increased activity in the parts of the brain’s reward pathways and the hypothalamus. It turns out that feeling grateful can increase serotonin and activate the brain stem to produce dopamine – the brain’s pleasure chemical. It also activates the prefrontal cortex which has a huge role in attention, impulse inhibition, memory, and cognitive flexibility.
In other words, the more gratitude you experience, the healthier, clearer, and happier you’ll feel.
Getting Deeper Into the Science
In one study, researchers conducted a neurological experiment that measured brain activity using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
In the experiment, subjects received gifts that induced a feeling of gratitude. The areas of the brain that subsequently showed increased activity were those associated with reward, moral and social cognition, empathy, and value judgment.
The activation of the hypothalamus (as mentioned above) is also key. The hypothalamus regulates hormones that are responsible for many critical functions in the body. These include emotional responses, body temperature, appetite, and sleep.
Through all of this, researchers concluded that the emotion of gratitude enables a supportive attitude toward others and releases negative stressors.
Better Physical Health Too?
Of course, easing the body of stressors is a boon for better physical health too.
In a 2015 study, psychologists gathered a group of subjects and asked one-third of them to keep a daily journal of things for which they were grateful. The second third was asked to note all the irritations or displeasing events each day. The final third was asked to report daily situations with no emotional attachment.
At the end of the 10-week study, they asked participants to write down how they were feeling physically and about life in general. It was no big surprise that the gratitude group felt more optimistic and positive about their lives than the other groups. They were more physically active and also reported fewer doctor visits than the other groups. Especially those who focused only on negative situations.
The Simplest Way to Practice Gratitude
You might be thinking, ‘well, that’s great for people who are positive. But I’ve always been more of an Eeyore type.’ No worries. The brain is plastic and flexible. This means you can change those neural pathways. And once positivity becomes a way of life, your brain will be flushed with gratitude. This, in turn, will improve your health, relationships, performance at work or school, and overall well-being.
The simplest way to start practicing gratitude is by keeping a gratitude journal. You need only write three things in it every day for which you’re grateful. These could be anything at all with as much or as little detail as suits you. Of course, you don’t need to limit yourself to just three. But it’s a good starting point.
Once you start doing this regularly, you’ll notice things you may not have before. This is awareness. And the more awareness you gain, the more satisfaction and happiness you’ll feel.
Practicing daily gratitude asks only that you become cognizant of yourself and your surroundings. Perhaps start by expressing thanks for the kindness of others, the beauty of nature, the support of family, or the ability to move throughout your day.
From there, you begin to home in on some of the smaller stuff – your pets, the coziness of your bed, the taste of your favorite foods, a friend’s smile, a sunrise, etc. Over time, you’ll feel comfort, peace, and satisfaction by practicing this simple form of mindfulness and gratitude.
Ready to Explore a Mindfulness Practice?
Maintaining a daily journal of all that is good around and about you is a wonderful way to keep your brain on gratitude. Add in a regular mindfulness practice such as yoga or meditation and you’ll be awash with peace.
Contact us to find out how we can bring our mobile yoga and meditation practices right to your business or organization. We offer both virtual and on-site services. And that’s something for which to be grateful!