The Brain Benefits of Gratitude

Several studies have validated the practice of gratitude as a positive brain-changer. The research confirms that the daily practice of gratitude is good for our bodies, our minds, and our relationships. It can keep us from getting stuck in negative emotions, create a growth mind set, and build resilience during times of struggle. In one study, for example, the brain scans of individuals who practiced only eight weeks of gratitude had a stronger brain structure for social cognition and empathy. It also showed a strengthening in the circuits that process reward. What this says to me is that gratitude creates a virtuous circle of connection to ourselves, our world, and the people in it.  Here are our top five reasons to get your gratitude on.

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#1.  
"WIRES AND FIRES" NEW NEURAL PATHWAYS

Our brain is constantly being shaped and reshaped by the process of neuroplacticity. Gratitude restructures our brain by "wiring and firing" positive emotions and experiences into new neural pathways. The more we practice appreciating the good around us, the better we get at feeling and thinking positively. Expressing gratitude creates a positive neural feedback loop that spirals us up. We become more stress-resilient, flexible, optimistic, and happy humans.  

#2. 
BOOSTS THE BRAIN'S "FEEL-GOOD" HORMONES

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Several research studies have shown that expressing gratitude triggers the release of the positive brain hormones oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. These feel-good brain chemicals regulate mood, fight stress, and build close connections with others. Because gratitude feels great, our reward circuits seek to repeat the experience; it's the gift that keeps on giving.

#3.
SOFTENS HARD FEELINGS

It's easy to stay stuck in old resentments, because they validate our pain. Interrupt the negative mental mantra by practicing gratitude. Even a little can go a long way.  Unforgiveness mostly hurts the one holding the grudge. Gratitude can help soften our negative emotions of annoyance, hurt, or disappointment and give us a new perspective. By learning more about the part we played in the fallout, we can gain a new self-awareness, and grow in our capacity for handling future relational challenges. 

#4. 
THE ANTIDOTE TO
FEAR & WORRY

Thanks to our caveman ancestors, a negativity bias is hardwired into our brains. Because of this pre-disposition, our thoughts may become fear-based and create anxiety, worry, even hopelessness. Gratitude helps to shift our conscious attention back to the good happening right now. This will help us think more clearly and regulate our sympathetic nervous system's fight or flight response. Gratitude turns down the dials of anxiety or depression and turns up our capacity to feel relaxed and hopeful. 

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#5.
BUILDS RESILIENCE TO STRUGGLE

We all face moments of struggle, because struggle is part of life. Gratitude builds an inner reservoir of strength we can draw from when life feels overwhelming. It will redirect our thinking from negative to positive, help us stay in the present moment, give us a new capacity for self-compassion, and keep us moving forward. Gratitude can help us to reach out to others in the struggle and ask for help.