No, literally. Expressions of gratitude can rewire your brain.
Between flight delays, uncomfortable family fights, and yet another year of being stuck at the kids table, it can be easy to get so caught up in the stress of the holidays that we forget to actually take the time to give thanks. So this year, when you’re looking for an excuse to ditch the conversation with Great Aunt Doris about why you still don’t have a boyfriend, try using gratitude as your way out. It will save you in more ways than one.
Recent studies in positive psychology have found that taking the time to step back from the chaos of everyday life in order to practice gratitude can have a ton of positive effects on our overall health and happiness. Among other things, these studies have shown that gratitude is associated with increased optimism, improvements in sleep, healthier exercise patterns, and reductions in symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Wondering how all of this is possible? Well, as it turns out, gratitude stimulates the hypothalamus, which is the part of the brain responsible for regulating stress and establishing sleep cycles. Gratitude also activates the neurotransmitter dopamine, which sends feel-good chemicals to the brain and activates our reward circuit, making us want to continue engaging in the action that stimulated the initial dopamine release. This means that once you start practicing gratitude, your brain will naturally become wired to look for more things to be grateful for.
Thanksgiving is a great time to start practicing gratitude, but if you really want to experience long-term positive effects, continue giving thanks throughout the year. Keep a gratitude journal, practice mindfulness, write a note to someone you love, or reflect on happy events in your life. Rewire your brain to look for things to be grateful for, and your mind and body will reward you for it. You can thank me later.