Hardwiring Your Mind (& Heart) for Gratitude
The time of the year is upon us: when your social media feed is filled with daily posts of thankfulness, appropriate for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. While many would argue that we ought to make it a point to be thankful every day, there certainly is no harm in making a point to focus on the good in our lives, even if it's only for 28 days. However, the benefits of living a life of gratitude, working it into our daily way of being, are certainly beneficial for the other 11 months of the year.
First, it is important to understand the difference between thankfulness and gratitude. We are thankful for many things in our lives. Thankful for our job, our home, our family, and friends. But gratitude goes beyond a feeling of thankfulness and extends into a feeling of wanting to return appreciation and kindness. Gratitude is more than a feeling felt by one, as it becomes a relationship-building practice.
In an article featured in The Greater Good Magazine showcasing the studies of scientific world gratitude expert (yeah, that really is a thing), Robert Emmons, gratitude forces us to focus on how we have been supported and affirmed by others.
Further scientific studies, scanning the brains of participants while reading to them situations where they might feel a sense of gratitude, showed that the same areas that lit up when prompted by situations of gratitude were also areas that have been previously associated with emotional processing, interpersonal bonding and rewarding social interactions, moral judgment, and the ability to understand the mental states of others. Gratitude creates empathy.
Gratitude can also make us happier and more positive overall. The more we repeat an action or thought within our brain, the more connectivities our neural pathways create. This goes no different for negative thoughts. We truly become what we think. The more we practice gratitude, the more we can rewire our brain to be more diligent in recognizing that for which we are truly grateful. Furthermore, gratitude boosts dopamine and serotonin and the hormone oxytocin, all associated with well-being and having a positive outlook on life.
Gratitude, while seemingly second nature to our human existence, also finds itself rooted in many religions. We are taught to give thanks for what our God (Buddha, Allah, etc.) has given us. Many faiths practice services to the divine or daily prayers and meditations to show gratitude simply for being alive. Buddhism even practices gratitude for our misfortunes, for they are what truly allow us to appreciate the gifts that living has to bestow upon us.
This practice of weaving gratitude into our daily lives allows us to be more present. Being more aware and alive, simply in the moment, allows us so much more to be grateful. Next time you find yourself in a joyous moment, pause, creating a silence in your mind to take in all that is around you. By letting our egos out of the way, we are further able to be present and find more gifts of gratitude in the moment. By practicing gratitude more often, it will become a second nature, and we will be able to live our lives with even more joy.