Thanksgiving is a special day that America sets aside to give thanks, but why only one day?
Science tells us that practicing gratitude can actually rewire our brain, making our lives happier. Many people in recovery have discovered that the regular practice of expressing gratitude is not a New Age fad; it’s a way to reap true benefits for those who mean it.
In a neurological experiment conducted by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles, brain activity was measured using magnetic resonance imaging as subjects were induced to feel gratitude by receiving gifts. The areas of the brain that showed increased activity were the anterior cingulate cortex and medial prefrontal cortex – areas associated with moral/social thoughts, reward, empathy, and value judgment. This led to the conclusion that the emotion of gratitude supports a positive and supportive attitude toward others and a feeling of relief from stressors.
Gratitude also activates the hypothalamus. This produces positive effects on metabolism, stress, and other behaviors. The hypothalamus is located at the base of the brain and regulates hormones responsible for critical functions: body temperature, emotional responses, and survival functions like appetite and sleep. One of the neurochemicals associated with the parts of the brain affected by gratitude is dopamine, the pleasure hormone.
The best news in all this is researchers found that the positive effects of gratitude on mental health last beyond the time you express thankfulness.
So, how can we improve our “Attitude of Gratitude”?
- Keep a daily journal of things you are grateful for—list at least three. The best times for writing in your journal are in the morning as your day begins or at night before sleep.
- Make it a point to tell people in your life what you appreciate about them daily.
- When you look in the mirror, give yourself a moment to think about a quality you like about yourself or something have recently accomplished.
Through the power of gratitude, we can wire our brain to be optimistic and compassionate, making us feel good. And the more you look, the more you can find to be grateful for. This positivity can even extend to those around you, creating a cycle of good, Happy Thanksgiving!