Want to be happier in one simple step? Practice gratitude! Expressing thankfulness and reflecting on the blessings in your life not only paves the way to greater levels of contentment, but it is also scientifically shown to support brain health, stress reduction, and the management of depression and anxiety.
When we give thanks, we not only rewire our brains; we also uplift our spirits and the spirits of others. When it comes to overall personal well-being and relational growth, gratitude is a game changer.
Gratitude Changes the Brain
The practice of gratitude has been shown to increase activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that is associated with learning and decision-making.¹ When people give thanks in the form of verbal expression, written notes, and journaling, they are more likely to experience the potential for improved mental health long-term.
According to one review published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers examined the connection between health and gratitude in over 50 studies. They concluded that gratitude is associated with high levels of emotional and social well-being and positive emotional states, including overall life satisfaction and happiness.²
The limbic system is the part of the brain that is responsible for emotional and behavioral experiences. It is comprised of the thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus, and cingulate gyrus. Studies have shown that the hippocampus and amygdala—two sites that regulate emotions, memory, and bodily functioning—are activated with feelings of gratitude.
Another study examined the effects of gratitude on neural network function connectivity and concluded the following:
“Expressing gratitude is known to promote positive mind-sets and reduce stress levels. Gratitude is an important component of mental healthiness throughout life, and it contributes to mental well-being. Gratitude has been associated with a lower risk for psychiatric disorders, higher life satisfaction, and wisdom. More specifically, gratitude towards a parent has been associated with resilience and low levels of aggression as well as high levels of happiness and low levels of depressive symptoms.”³
As alluded to above, gratitude not only transforms mental health, but also positively shapes relationships with loved ones. Expressing appreciation to and for others is a powerful tool for building and maintaining trust, open communication, and kind rapport with others.
Healing Your Thought Life
At The Wellness Way, our approach to healthcare starts with one of the major principles of chiropractic care: the Three T’s. We believe there are three factors that impact and impart disorder within the body: trauma, toxins, and thoughts.
That third T, thoughts, is an important one. Thoughts are patterns of beliefs that inform mental and emotional distress both consciously and unconsciously. Gratitude helps relieve the brain of toxic thought patterns. Research supports the conclusion that a regular gratitude practice has the power to direct an individual’s thought patterns and create a cognitive environment for whole body healing.
Cultivate Your Gratitude Practice
Just like eating healthy or exercising, a gratitude practice is a habit that can be cultivated over time. Here are a few simple ways to get started:
- Keep a gratitude journal. A journal will serve as a personal space for reflecting on the things in your life (both big and small) for which you are grateful. Even just writing a few lines a day can shift and uplift your thoughts as you direct your attention to the good things in your life.
- Write thank-you notes. Let the people in your life know that you appreciate them! A handwritten note not only conveys thoughtfulness, but the process of writing it out with ink and paper rather than typing or texting will encourage your mind to slow down as you reflect.
- Find a gratitude buddy. Maybe it’s your spouse, child, or a friend at work. Set aside a few minutes a few times per week to spend time together and discuss what you’re thankful for. Sharing expressions of gratitude with another person is a great way to strengthen relationships and sharpen your emotional skills.
- Take a break from technology. The influence of technology and its accompanying distractions has been linked to increased experiences of depression, isolation, and reduced attention span. Spend time away from a screen and instead soak in and appreciate meaningful, real life experiences with loved ones.
- Begin a prayer or meditation practice. Meditating in a quiet space for a few minutes a day is beneficial for supporting your brain health and stress response. During your meditation time, call to mind what you are grateful for and spend time appreciating the positive feelings and emotions that come from recalling your blessings.