“Give thanks for a little, and you will find a lot.” – Hausa Proverb
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.” – John F. Kennedy
Expressing thanks is often more at the forefront of our minds as we near Thanksgiving. Have you noticed that when you are looking for things to be grateful for you actually feel better? Have you ever felt burdened before offering service, then after felt your own problems seem to reduce in size? Have you ever wondered why this is the case?
Researchers have found that expressing gratitude actually helps decrease depression and anxiety, difficulties with chronic pain and risk of disease. This happens when oxytocin, which is the neurochemical that helps us feel connected to others, is released in the brain and our nervous system is soothed.
Researchers have found “that gratitude causes synchronized activation in multiple brain regions, and lights up parts of the brain’s reward pathways and the hypothalamus. In short, gratitude can boost neurotransmitter serotonin and activate the brain stem to produce dopamine (Zahn et al, 2009).” Dopamine is the brian’s neurochemical that allows feelings of motivation, learning and pleasure.
Our brain changes when we express gratitude! We feel happier, enjoy being with others, feel more motivated in our lives and excited about the future. If you’re not feeling like this is you right now, take heart… Gratitude is an attribute that can be developed! Cultivating gratitude will take intentional effort and it will be worth it. As you work to look for things you can be thankful for you will find personal and relationship improvements. As you look at life through the lenses of gratitude, your future will brighten and you will more clearly see the good in yourself and others.
Ideas for developing gratitude
- Keep a gratitude journal or make a gratitude list in a note app on your phone.
- Write a thank you note. Mail it or deliver it in person.
- Offer service to a family member, friend, neighbor or stranger.
- Ponder on your blessings.
- Offer a prayer of thanksgiving.
- Do a guided gratitude meditation.
Zahn R, Moll J, Paiva M, Garrido G, Krueger F, Huey ED, Grafman J. The neural basis of human social values: evidence from functional MRI. Cereb Cortex. 2009 Feb;19(2):276-83. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhn080. Epub 2008 May 22. PMID: 18502730; PMCID: PMC2733324.