Gratitude changes the brain. Therefore, gratitude changes everything.
Yes, it’s true—a consistent gratitude practice rewires our brain, and when we change our brain, we change everything. We change how we feel, how we perceive our surroundings, how we think, act, and interact. This is incredible when you think about it, how simple yet profound this is—when we change ourselves, we change our world, and in turn, we can change the world for others.
This is critical for those of us who have or have had too much stress in our lives, whether the stress was in our childhood and has impacted our brain, beliefs, and behavior today, or if that stress has surmounted through adulthood as part of the busy, pressure-packed, modern world.
If you read other Jyllin.com posts, you know how stress easily results in stressful behavior, whether that is in our breathing, emotions, consumption, or our relationships. Stress gives us dopamine, and so does gratitude, which means that when cutting back or quitting stress-response consumption, like drinking, smoking, or bingeing on carbs and sugar-loaded foods (including all that processed stuff), we can switch out that consumption with gratitude because what we’re looking for, ultimately, is a hit of dopamine!
Self-destructive behavior and gratitude offer us the same end result: Dopamine!
When you’re feeling like sh*t, say because you’re hungover from whatever your drug of choice is, (including carbs and sugar, yes, really!) or because you keep on skipping meals and not in an intentional “fasting” kind of way, or because your sleep is off, your mind won’t stop racing, or caffeine’s the only way you make it through the day, to feel thankful can be a challenge. Understandably.
Creating new neural pathways isn’t easy, just like creating new habits isn’t easy, but when they lead to something you want for yourself, like having energy, and feeling clarity, and feeling purpose, and enjoying all of the little things in life, persisting through the difficulty is worth it, right? And like anything, it gets easier with practice, so let’s begin.
Take a moment right now to identify one thing that you’re thankful for. It can be something like a feeling that arises for a loved one, a friend, a pet, or a detail about that loved one that you especially appreciate.
It can be a quality about yourself, the music you enjoy, a certain food you love, or a special memory, a vision that you have, or the simple support of your breath moving in and out.
Can you feel this gratitude in your body? Where do you feel it? How does it feel? For example, do you feel warmth with it? Do you feel more space in your chest, in your heart? Do you feel an overall expansion, or do you feel more grounded?
Continue with this until you feel a release of happy hormones that can create a sense of connection, joy, peace, protection, even a smile that can’t help but express itself—a hit of happiness if you will, that lifts your mood naturally.
When feeling thankful for anything, no matter how big or small, we release happy hormones (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins), so we literally, physically, feel happier when we FEEL the slightest amount of gratitude. Just saying or writing that we’re grateful can help, but genuinely feeling gratitude is when the hormones are released, creating new activity, possibilities, and circulation in and to the brain, bringing with it a multitude of health benefits when practiced over time.
The more that we consciously identify and feel (and choose to share and express) what we’re grateful for on a regular basis, the more naturally we feel thankful for small things throughout the day because the brain will seek more of the reward system that is triggered by that release of happy hormones, particularly dopamine.
This is when new neural pathways are created—we’re literally changing our brain to aid us in feeling better! This will seep into our memories, enabling us to remember the past through a lighter lens. This will naturally influence our present moment and positively impact our future because we will FEEL our past and future differently in the present!
We’re actively exercising our brain and in doing so, generating physical, mental, and emotional benefits.
A gratitude practice aids in changing the perspective through which we experience our inner worlds and the world around us. We begin to naturally identify more of the positive, taking an edge off of anger, pessimism, crippling criticism, loathing of self or others, or in extreme circumstances, hopelessness.
No matter how down we may feel, there is always something to feel thankful for, which is the beauty in this practice. Even searching for something to feel thankful for is making positive changes in the brain.
Gratitude can also act as a springboard for those low moments—it can be there to lift us from falling further into a downward spiral. It can then shine as light no matter the darkness we may face. That light will grow, shine bigger and brighter, through practice and persistence.
It takes a few weeks to establish a new habit, and receiving the many benefits from a gratitude practice may take about eight weeks. It’s easiest to build new habits in the morning, and practicing gratitude when waking up also influences the subconscious mind.
You can start out by feeling thankful for just one or a few things when you wake up and let it develop into more naturally with time. You can also include gratitude into your morning routine and meditation practice. If it helps, you can do this with a meditation that I made for you.
Writing down what you’re grateful for is highly effective and can easily be developed into a morning regimen. You can do this by simply listing at least a few things that you’re thankful for, or elaborating on how and why you’re thankful for what you list.
There are so many ways to practice gratitude, so whatever and however helps you FEEL gratitude on a daily basis, do it for all of the advantages it brings! Comment with your feedback or questions, or join us for more info and inspiration in the Holistic Liberation Facebook group.
Jyllin, certified as a holistic healthcare practitioner in 2004, a bodyworker, and teacher of therapeutic yoga and creative movement, is committed to sharing environmentally and socially conscientious lifestyle tools that support liberation from addictive patterns of chronic stress. Learn more about Jyllin and The Holistic Liberation Program.