Written by Valerie Davis, LPC
“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” -William Arthur Ward
In America, we choose one day out of the year as the time to give thanks and identify all that we have to be grateful for- good ole thanksgiving day. What would happen if we used this approach in our daily lives? What impact does gratitude have on our brains and bodies? Leading researchers have found that a consistent gratitude practice can alter the neural structure of the brain, and the alterations are positively wonderful.
Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful, and the readiness to show appreciation for someone or something. In psychology, gratitude is seen as a powerful emotional response that we experience when we take time to identify and connect with the positive things in our lives. While experiencing gratitude does provide a warm, fuzzy feeling inside us, there is way more that occurs inside of us when we are connecting with this emotion.
Research has demonstrated that gratitude practice increases the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, and increases activity in the hypothalamus. Serotonin is frequently referred to as the “feel good” hormone. It has been linked to mood regulation, digestion, sleep, and memory. Medications used to treat depression often increase serotonin levels, which means you can use gratitude exercises as your natural antidepressant. Higher levels of dopamine have also been found to help counteract depression, as well as increase productivity, improve memory, and decrease impulsivity and self-destructive behavior. As for the hypothalamus, it’s the part of the brain that impacts body functions like eating, sleeping, drinking, as well as our metabolism and stress levels. Those who show more gratitude have been found to have better functioning metabolisms and lower levels of stress.
So what does this really mean in terms of what it does for us?
Studies have shown that practicing gratitude has mental, physical, and social benefits. With increased gratitude comes an increase in life satisfaction, happiness/positive moods, resilience, ability to sleep, immune system strength, feelings of connectedness to others, prosocial behaviors, energy levels, and overall physical health. The more we take the time to be thankful for what we have, who surrounds us, and our life experiences, the better we are going to feel across the board!
Now that you’ve read about the benefits of practicing gratitude, you may be wondering how you can start to add gratitude practice into your daily routine. I’ve chosen five of my favorite, and fairly easy, methods of practicing gratitude to share.
2. Thank someone for something once a day. Reach out to a family member, friend, or coworker and thank them for something they’ve done, or just for being them! This can be as easy as sending a quick text or a five-minute phone call. Including someone else in your gratitude exercise is a great way to spread the effects of gratitude while also connecting in a unique way with someone in your life. You reap the benefits of practicing gratitude while making someone else’s day- win win!
Starting to incorporate gratitude practices into your life may seem overwhelming at first (oh great, something else I need to do everyday), but you can create a simple way to get in touch with it in whatever way works for you. Maybe even start by taking a moment to thank yourself for making time to read this blog! As mentioned before, gratitude practice increases dopamine levels- the beauty in this is that this shift communicates to your brain to do more of whatever you have been doing. Meaning, the more you exercise feelings of gratitude, the more your mind will be able to identify what you are grateful for. Just like everything, you will get better with practice.
We at Urban Balance would like to thank YOU for visiting our page, and wish you the best of luck on your gratitude journey.