The Power of Gratitude

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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.

1. Start a gratitude journal. Find an old journal, or even use your phone, to start documenting what you are grateful for each day. It may be helpful to choose a specific time in the day to dedicate to your journaling. This can be as simple as writing down three things you are grateful for when you wake up, or picking one experience from the day to be thankful for before you go to bed. Don’t overthink it! Start simple and you can always expand your practice as it becomes a habit.

 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! 

3. Make a gratitude jar. Grab a recycled jar, box, or even a cup from your house and begin to write down one thing you are grateful for on a small slip of paper each day (or week if that feels easier) and throw it in the jar. This way you can slowly build a collection of gratitudes that you can go back and read when you’re having a more challenging day. It’s also fun to go back at the end of the year and read through your entire jar to reflect on all you have to be thankful for within that year!

4. Write a kind review after a service. Create a public thank you after you get a haircut or dine at a new restaurant. There are so many platforms to use today where we can leave reviews and recommendations on a product or service. Taking the time to do this will allow you to really reflect on your recent experience, and reconnect with it, while also encouraging the company or individual behind the work.
5. Practice gratitude via mindfulness. Sitting down and focusing on something you are grateful for, or maybe focusing on how it feels in your body to be full of gratitude, and connecting to your breath is another great way to practice. If you are not comfortable with practicing mindfulness on your own, hop online and search for a gratitude mindfulness script- there are so many to try! The goal is to be present with the feeling or thought of gratitude to allow yourself to experience it to the fullest.

 

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.