Your Brain on Gratitude

Over the summer, I started to realize I’d become kind of a drag. I was tired all the time, not very interested in anything, and easily irritated. There was no good reason for me to be so grumpy. I was just kind of burned out.

It had to change.

Inspired by an article I’d read, I started taking 30 seconds each night and writing down five things I was grateful for that day. Anything at all. A good hair day. A free lunch. Whatever. As long as I got at least five of them. The first few days it felt a little dumb, but what did I really have to lose?

And then something really weird happened. A week or two later, I caught myself getting out of bed excited for the day. Excited for work. I’m not excited about anything at 5 a.m. (I mean, who is?)

And from there I started noticing other small but significant changes–I was more social at work, I was appreciating my husband more, had more ideas just come to me out of nowhere. Even though nothing around me had changed, I was having more fun.

Another couple weeks, and it went even further. I was laughing a ton. Really hard. We’re talking unstoppable, full-body laughs. I started getting rushes of giddiness for no reason at all.

At this point it started to freak me out a little bit, so I laid off a little. But the point is: gratitude is some seriously powerful stuff. 

Research as show that, over time, gratitude can rewire your brain. In studies, people who kept a gratitude journal demonstrated increased determination, attention, enthusiasm and energy–all traits that help you be a successful creative.

Another study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) tracked blood flow to different parts of the brain as people experienced gratitude. Subjects experienced higher activity in the hypothalamus, which controls bodily functions including eating, drinking, sleeping, metabolism and stress levels. Gratitude also activated regions of the brain associated with dopamine, the brain’s “reward” chemical.

(Learn more about these studies in Psychology Today’s article “The Grateful Brain.”)

So what I suggest is that you practice flexing your gratitude. Like a skill or a muscle, gratitude is something you can condition your mind for.

In fact, why don’t we start right now …

Tell me … what are you grateful for?


4 thoughts on “Your Brain on Gratitude

  1. Gratitude is indeed powerful. Thanks for the reminder!
    I am grateful for my wonderful family!
    I am grateful for a kitchen with two ovens.
    I am grateful that love to cook.
    I am grateful for good raw milk from the dairy.
    I am grateful from fresh, cage-free eggs from well-loved chickens.

    And I’m also grateful that my family’s thanksgiving is today and I can remake the pumpkin pie, since I woke up this morning realizing I left out the milk!

  2. Emily, I love this! I’m very aware of how gratitude can change your life. I practice what I call “forward gratitude.” Every morning I get up and I express gratitude for the day I want to live, not the day that might be out there waiting for me. For example:

    I’m grateful that I feel wonderful this morning (even if I don’t)
    I’m grateful that the weather is perfect today (even if it isn’t)
    I’m grateful that abundance is flowing freely in my life (even if my wallet is crying)

    The wonderful thing about “forward gratitude” is that I find myself actually living the day I desire more often than not. And that keeps me vibration raised in every aspect of life.

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