Posted in Of Heart and Mind

Your Brain on Gratitude

‘Tis the season. Thanksgiving is here, and soon, Christmas will be, too. Today, in church service, we discovered how our body and mind respond to experiencing gratitude on a regular basis. This is what we will be discussing today.

An individual is positively affected neurologically, physically and emotionally when they experience gratitude regularly. The Huffington Post wrote an article called “The Neuroscience of Gratitude” which shares the following implications of gratitude:

  • production of dopamine and serotonin increases
  • it can be a natural antidepressant
  • the more these neural pathways are fired, the more automatic it becomes
  • encourages the search for constructive themes, rather than destructive ones

A study conducted in 2015 by four researchers created a four-condition experiment (stimulus, reflection, probe and rest) where participants read an excerpt telling of one of four phases of the Holocaust: 1. The rise of Nazism and Persecution, 2. Internment, 3. The Final Solution, 4. Final Months and Liberation. After reading the excerpt, they were instructed to reflect and feel, as much as possible, how it would feel to experience what they had just read, and create a deep, personal, realistic reaction. Then, they had to rate how much gratitude they felt on a scale from 1 to 4. A black screen would then be presented, as they were instructed to rest and release their mind of all thoughts for a 12-16 second period, acting as a baseline prior to the next phase. The four conditions of the experiment are shown in the figure below. The hypothesis? “That gratitude ratings would correlate with activity in brain regions associated with moral cognition, value judgment and theory of mind.”

Experiment Protocol

The results? “Ratings of gratitude correlated with brain activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and medial prefrontal cortex, in support of our hypotheses. The results provide a window into the brain circuitry for moral cognition and positive emotion that accompanies the experience of benefitting from the goodwill of others.”

How awesome! When we feel grateful, we begin to elicit the positive emotion that comes from experiencing the benefit of a gift from someone. Even amidst tragedy and shortfall, simply “thinking” gratitude into existence will rewire the neural pathways to make it a habit for emotional well-being.

Here are four ways that you can practice gratitude:

  1. Write it down. On a daily basis, write down at least 5 things you are grateful for.
  2. Get into a routine of gratitude. You can have an accountability partner; you can write it every morning before you start your day; you can keep a list posted to be reminded daily. Whatever works for you.
  3. Meditate. You can do so sitting quietly or during your favorite exercise activity, such as yoga, pilates or even running.
  4. Surround yourself with people who share gratitude, too. These people might be family, co-workers or your church friends. Make sure you are not exposed to complaints every day. Be grateful and help others do the same.

Best Wishes,

Coral A.J. Gibson

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