How gratitude can change your brain
Who would think that such a simple exercise practiced daily could have such profound affects on your life…
For centuries, religions and philosophies have long extolled the benefits of practicing gratitude. The giving of thanks at mealtimes, saying prayers before sleep or meditating on the feeling of gratitude are integral parts of many people’s lives. Over the past decade, science has delved further into the idea of counting our blessings and has discovered that practicing gratitude is good for our health and well-being.
Once study took 300 people with clinically low mental health and issues of anxiety and depression. The researchers divided this group into three smaller groups with every participant receiving counselling during the three-week study. One group was the control group, another group had an added exercise of venting their negative emotional experiences on paper once a week, while the third group wrote a gratitude letter to another person once each week. Those who wrote the gratitude letter reported significantly better mental health for 4 to 12 weeks after the writing exercise.
Researchers observed that gratitude affects us in 4 ways.
- Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions The negative group used negative words which added to their poor mental health and distress. The positive words used by the gratitude group helped them shift their focus away from ‘me’ to the more positive ‘we’, and in doing so, helped change their energy and improve their health.
- Gratitude helps even if you don’t share it! Only 23% of the gratitude-writing group shared their letters but the results remained the same. This proved that the benefit of gratitude is not dependent on communicating to the other.
- Gratitude benefits take time. It’s like compound interest in your gratitude account, it accrues over time. We must be patient and make more deposits.
- Gratitude has lasting effects on the brain. MRI scans that measure brain activity showed greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning and decision making. This suggests that people who are more grateful are training their brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, which contributes to improved mental health over time.
Gratitude allows us to celebrate and magnify the good stuff in life. It has the power to energize, heal and bring hope, and helps us cope with hard times. Gratitude and its sibling, appreciation is a mindset technique that shifts our perspective and priority by helping us focus on what’s truly important.
It’s important to note that gratitude doesn’t make problems and threats disappear. It helps us master our mindset and emotions, and empowers and energizes us to take aligned, purposeful action to navigate the challenges we face with less stress, fear, and anxiety. If we regularly practice conscious active gratitude, it becomes a habit, improving our overall health and well-being, and transforming our reality.
Diane Demetre is a Leadership & Mindset Speaker, Master Mindset Coach & Mentor, and multi-published Author with a 40+ year career spanning education, entertainment, and entrepreneurship. Awarded an International Women’s Day Leadership Award, Diane is a powerhouse of educated insight, practical experience, and dynamic leadership.
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