You can train your brain to be more positive and happier, and gratitude is one of the most effective ways to do that.
Physical & emotional benefits of gratitude
How often do you feel grateful during the day? Do you feel grateful when you take a sip of coffee or when you lie down on your cozy bed? Science shows that gratitude is strongly associated with happiness. Just a simple habit of seeing the blessings in small things in your life has tremendous benefit to your health. Gratitude is one of the most powerful exercises that can train your brain to improve your sense of wellbeing.
Research confirms that gratitude improves sleep, lowers anxiety and depression, improves immune system, improves self-esteem, increases mental strength, and helps you feel more socially connected with others. Researchers found that gratitude enhances blood flow in certain parts of the brain associated with memory and emotion, moral decision making, and empathy and increases production of dopamine and serotonin – the feel-good hormones that create a sense of happiness within us.
You get what you focus on, so focus on what you want
This suggests that if we focus on the positive things in our life we will be happier. Our brain cannot focus on both positive and negative thoughts at the same time. This means focusing on the positive not only activates certain parts of our brain that enhance our good feelings, but simultaneously deactivates parts of the brain responsible for negative feelings. In the long run, by changing the blood flow pattern in our brain by regular practice of gratitude, we reshape our brain. We can train our brain to be more positive, the same way we train our muscles by regular exercise. And as in any other skill, the more you practice the more skilful you become.
Gratitude changes our mindset
But there is more to this. Besides physically changing our brain, gratitude helps us cultivate a healthier, more positive mindset. It is our mindset that shapes our reality and experiences of life. We can see both the positive and the negative aspect of every situation depending on what we are looking for. If we train our brain to focus on the positive rather than the negative, the story we tell ourselves about our life will be more positive. The reality is that there are so many positive things in our life in any given situation. We just need to cultivate the skill to recognise them; the more we recognise them the happier we will be. This is what neuroscientist Dr Alex Korb refers to as a “virtuous cycle”.
In addition, our brain performs better when it is focused on the positive. Greater production of dopamine when we focus on the positive, enhances not only our happiness but also our productivity. We become more intelligent, more creative and more open when we are looking at the positive.
Counting one’s blessings
It is the genuine feeling of gratitude that has all these benefits. Every day in every one’s life there are so many things to be grateful for – a hug from a loved one, a bite of a juicy fruit, feeling fresh after a shower, a smile from a stranger, etc. All of these are blessings in our life. Recognising and appreciating the good things you encounter every day can be a practice of gratitude to change your brain to be happier.
Even in trying times, when recognising the blessings in one’s life becomes more challenging, you can take a deep breath and feel grateful for having this breath and that you are alive. Life itself is the greatest gift that we have. If you cultivate the habit of seeing your blessings and connecting with them you will realise that every single breath can give you a feeling of appreciation for life. With each breath we are given the extraordinary opportunity of life and to be joyful. Problems come and go, but the gift of life is always in our hand as long as we are alive.
To take this practice of gratitude to another level, we can take a few moments at the end of the day to write down the things that we felt grateful for during the day and say thank you to have those precious moments. The more we practice this the more we will master the skill to be mindful of the blessings we have each day. Gradually we will reshape our brain to see the world differently and to recognise and acknowledge the good things that are hidden in each moment of our life. And the reward is great.
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