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How Gratitude Changes your Brain

When was the last time you felt overflowing with gratitude for something. You know those moments when you're overflowing that warm, fuzzy feeling, and everything just feels right with the world? Well, it turns out, there's some serious science behind it. Grab your coffee, tea, mocktail, whatever it is you drink, sit comfortably and together, let's explore the profound effects of gratitude on our brains and lives, uncovering its potential to uplift our spirits, improve our well-being, and nurture our self-worth.

The Neurological Effects of Gratitude

Gratitude isn't just a fleeting emotion, it's a powerful force that influences your brain chemistry. Research has revealed that practicing gratitude can have tangible effects on neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which play crucial roles in regulating mood and happiness. By embracing gratitude, you activate these "feel-good" chemicals, fostering a sense of contentment and fulfillment within us. So every time you feel truly grateful you actually activate a sense of contentment and fulfillment within you.

Enhancing Emotional Regulation and Resilience

Beyond  it’s mediate, gratitude also serves as a beacon of hope amidst the storm. By cultivating a grateful mindset, you develop greater emotional resilience and empathy, which allows you to navigate life's ups and downs with grace and compassion. Gratitude acts as a protective shield, shielding you from the negative effects of stress and adversity. And to avoid any misunderstandings I am not talking about toxic positivity. I don't mean comments like "focus on the good" when your world is falling apart. I'm talking about a daily, completely internal, (your) practice, during which  even on the most difficult, dark days, you will choose to turn your attention for 1 minute to perhaps the only good thing you felt, saw, heard during the day/week/ month. This small practice will eventually train your brain not to ignore the darkness but to be able see the light even dimly. It will strengthen your brain. That's resilience and that's what gratitude does. It reinforces a positive outlook on life allowing you to bounce back from setbacks and adversity with greater ease.

From Personal to Social

Now I want you to think about the last time you expressed your gratitude to someone. Do you remember their face,  their mood that definitely shifted for the better, or even maybe their smile? Do you remember what you saw shifting in front of you and how you felt? This is just the tip of the iceberg. When you express gratitude to others, either verbally or through a kind gesture, you strengthen your social bonds, and most importantly you contribute to a culture of kindness and appreciation. A culture that we all need to cultivate now more than ever. In this way, gratitude serves as a catalyst for building deeper, more meaningful connections with others. In study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, researchers found that expressing gratitude to your partner enhances a sense of connection and improves the overall quality of the relationship.

Cultivating Gratitude

A mindset of gratitude is a skill that anyone can develop. It just takes practice. Its benefits accumulate over time.  You will see that the more you focus your attention on what you are grateful for, the more these will multiply. So the best way to feel the results is to make it a daily habit. Start today by consciously focusing for a few minutes on anything positive in your life by trying one (or more!) of these tips:

  • Keep a Gratitude Journal: Research has shown that keeping a gratitude journal reduces stress, improves sleep quality and fosters emotional awareness. Establish a daily practice writing down everything you feel joy or pleasure for. And if you don't know where to start or you end up thinking the same 3 things over and over, try a Gratitude Journal with different prompts. Through questions, it will direct your attention to your most positive experiences, gradually training your mind and mindset.
  • Practice Gratitude Meditation: This is a simple practice. All you need to do is take a few minutes to focus on something you're grateful for, and let yourself experience the deep feeling of appreciation. It's about experiencing the feeling and staying there for a while. At the center of this practice can be the pleasure of a good coffee, your dog, a loved one, your body that can and does what you want and need, a challenge you overcame, a recent small win. Just feel
  • Say "thank you" more often: A simple "thank you" can make someone's day brighter. When you appreciate and express your gratitude to those around you, you build better communication and more meaningful relationships.
  • Create a Gratitude Jar: You don’t like the idea of a journal? make a jar and make it a goal to write every day on 1 small piece of paper 1 thing you feel grateful for and put it in. Each month you can empty them and read them, or you can choose a large transparent  jar and gradually watch as the cards multiply, acting as a constant reminder of the good things in your life.
  • Volunteer: Helping others is a magical way to cultivate a sense of gratitude and connection. You can volunteer your time, donate to a cause you believe in, or do random acts of kindness.

Personally I want to invite you to start exploring the transformative power of this timeless practice, by turning your gaze to the smallest. In what you often take for granted and is the salt of your life. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “The little things? The little moments? They are not small at all." Saying thank you, feeling grateful for your child's hug, petting your dog, the color of the sky when the sun goes down, a song that lifts you up, these small moments can change the tone of your entire day and gradually of your life.

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