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The Science Behind Gratitude & How We Can Practice More of It


Photo Credit: Ali Karimiboroujeni

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Sometimes life gets tough. Unexpected challenges and hardships can arise, as many of us have seen over the past 2 years. When life throws at us difficult moments, it can be really hard to see past our own personal storms. Our emotions can weigh heavy on us and it can feel difficult to move through them. When our problems might feel bigger than us, it can help to shift the focus towards gratitude.


Gratitude is the act of being thankful, finding appreciation in the simplest of pleasures, and acknowledging everything that you are receiving. Although practicing gratitude isn't a fix all approach for mental health challenges, it can certainly help us to shift the focus outside of our presenting problems. It shifts the focus to a mindset of abundance rather than what we are currently lacking. Practicing gratitude is something that can lead to us living a more fulfilled and happier life. So how exactly does gratitude help support our wellness?


Studies have shown over the past few years that people who consciously express gratitude tend to be less depressed, anxious, and overall happier. Studies have also found that practicing gratitude can improve your sleep, boost your immune system, and enhance your relationships. Making a regular practice of gratitude causes neuroplasticity to occur. Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain to change, grow, and recognize itself over time in response to learning and its environment. When we regularly practice gratitude, we are able to change the molecular structure of the brain in ways that make us both happier and healthier.


The parts of the brain that are associated with gratitude are part of the same neural network that lights up when we socialize and experience pleasure. The same parts of the brain are also connected to the areas that control emotional regulation and stress relief. Gratitude depends on the same brain networks that are involved in happiness, social bonding, and stress relief. As mentioned earlier, feelings of gratitude can have benefits to our overall health. So now that we know about the science behind gratitude, how can we practice it?


#1 Keep a daily gratitude list of things that you are grateful for


I personally really like using The Five-Minute Journal by Intelligent Change. This journal not only has you jot down things that you are grateful for, but also helps you to honor a commitment to yourself, includes compassionate weekly challenges, and also helps you to truly establish a habit of gratitude.


Photo Credit: Caroline via Pinterest

You can purchase The Five-Minute Journal here: https://amzn.to/3oRgNqP


#2 Make an effort to express to someone in your life how grateful you are to have them

Even if it is as simple as sending a text to someone that you love expressing gratitude for them.



#3 Look in the mirror as you are getting ready for your day and say something kind to yourself

We are deserving of our own gratitude as well. :)


#4 Explore ways to give back to your community

Although self-care is important, I truly want to emphasize the importance of community. A psychological need that we have is to feel a sense of connection to others and to a community at large. Finding ways to give back to our communities can give us a sense of happiness and increased self-esteem.



What are a few things that you are grateful for in this moment?




Sources


The role of gratitude in the well-being of new mothers [electronic resource] / by Naveen K. Sharma.


Brain that Changes Itself: Neuroplasticity in Clinical Practice