Gratitude for Your Body & Brain

By Sherry Slejska

Gratitude; a feeling of appreciation and one which good parents are quick to teach their children at a young age. While it might be the culturally appropriate auto reply we use to follow a welcomed exchange, it’s far deeper than a simple exchange. Gratitude is an acknowledgment of the good in one’s life. When we immerse ourselves in experiencing gratitude as opposed to a surface level expression, the experience can transform you.

According to; Dr. Robert A. Ammons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, experts on the subject matter of gratitude; individuals who consistently write about things they are thankful for, were more optimistic and felt better.

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” – Proverb

Optimism is a character trait that proclaims, “something good is going to happen”. It’s the product of positive emotions such as gratitude. Your emotions influence your sense of gratitude and gratitude influences your emotions. Combined they have the power to transform your body’s chemical and neurological existence: subsequently, the creation of dopamine and serotonin are increased, amplifying and prolonging a sense of wellness, mentally and physically – a cycle of positiveness continues.

Initially, your efforts might need to be intentional as you mindfully incorporate a period of gratitude into your daily activities but over time your efforts are rewarded with a new default. Through regularly practicing gratitude, we can actually change our neural pathways in our brains. Over time, your former default setting, which may have been self-defeating negative thoughts become the less desired path for your brain to use. This can reduce anxiety and depression and produce a sustainable and more resilient new version of your mind

The effect of gratitude on the brain is long-lasting (Moll, Zahn, et al. 2007). Gratitude helps release negative emotions; gratitude can reduce emotional and physical pain. In the Counting Blessings vs Burdens (2003), a study on the effect of gratitude on the body, 16% of people who kept a gratitude journal reported a reduction in physical pain. 

Gratitude can improve emotional resilience by helping us to notice the positive things in life. When this occurs negative ruminations are exchanged for optimism. To seek reasons to be grateful, even when things are tough, helps us accept the past and present so we are better able to take on the future with a clear mind.

Here are a few ways you can get started:

  1. Keep a daily gratitude journal.
  2. Give yourself and others compliments as an expression of appreciation.
  3. Reach out to someone who you feel grateful for and express that gratitude to them or send them an email or text.
  4. Write a post it note of things you are grateful for and leave them around your house to see.
  5. Meditate and pray about that which you are grateful for.
  6. Select a time each day and set a reminder to look around and choose three things you are grateful for.
  7. Create gratitude lists.
  8. Look at any item and describe it to yourself with a sense of appreciation and wonder.
  9. Eventually, progress to find something to be grateful for in every good and difficult circumstance. Now, you’re starting to build resilience through gratitude!

So gratitude is truly backed with goodness for the body and mind; let’s not neglect relationships. A healthy human experience requires supportive relationships. People who express and live in gratitude are enjoyable to be around – that’s reason enough to be grateful!