Updated: May 29
The brain is a pretty miraculous organ we all have. It manages all of our body's systems without much notice. What is also incredible is that we can boost our brain and body's health through the practice of gratitude. Research has shown that when we practice gratitude, we build new neural connections in our "bliss center" of the brain or the nucleus accumbens-where we feel reward and pleasure. Equally as incredible as it is to increase our "bliss," those new neural connections mean you're building new beautiful brain matter (neuroplasticity)!
Then, with all that bliss we feel, we enhance our dopamine and serotonin, the amazing neurotransmitters that boost our happiness and well-being. These are natural antidepressants our body makes for us.
Finally, practicing gratitude allows you and me to restructure our cognition (thinking). Have you ever gotten stuck on a negative thought and continued feeling more hopeless?
Gratitude can reverse this.
In counseling, we use something called reciprocal inhibition when working with clients. This means that we ask clients to practice an opposite thought, feeling, or behavior from what they are currently using because two opposing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors cannot simultaneously exist. For example, being tense and relaxed or being anxious and calm, or angry and joyful.
The practice of gratitude has now been proven by research to have a positive impact on our
mindset and our brain and body's health. And gratitude is a great opposing thought, feeling, or action to the others that keep us in pain, depressed, anxious, and more.
How To Practice Gratitude
Here are ten ways to boost your brain and body's health and make gratitude a cornerstone of your life.
1. Wake up and count blessings. Even if you struggle with this, you woke up, and you have another day with air in your lungs and the opportunity to learn and grow. We forget how miraculous it is to wake up for a new day.
2. Tell someone you appreciate them. Have you ever thanked the cashier at the grocery store for taking care of you? How about the colleague that always seems to have a smile on their face? Find someone and say thanks.
3. Start a journal of thanks. Journaling is a cathartic act that can also serve as a roadmap for your life. What do you want to read back on? What would you like others to discover on those pages? Along with the catharsis of expelling the day, what are you equally grateful for?
4. Smile! Frowning is hard work; it takes 43 muscles. Smiling, it's easy! Just 17 muscles. When you smile, your brain releases tiny molecules called neuropeptides that fight off stress.
5. Act of kindness a day keeps the sadness away. You're boosting your brain; when you do one act of kindness, the reward center of the brain leaps for joy when you do for others, and your body's natural painkiller- endorphins kick in.
6. Keep a gratitude list.
Create a list of the things you are grateful for in your life. Then, add an item each day or each week. This focuses your mind on the positive and diminishes the pain you may be feeling.
7. Live in the present.
“Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day." -Matthew 6:34. When we worry about tomorrow or lament yesterday, we steal from today. Practicing mindfulness of staying in the moment each day allows us to live presently and focuses our efforts on finding gratitude in even the smallest things.
8. Embrace the challenge. Without trial, there isn't triumph. Rather than focus on the difficulty, shift your mind to the opportunity found within the challenge. Is it an increase in perseverance, serving as an example to others, new growth... embracing the challenge allows for cognitive restructuring to take place.
9. Strengthen and Improve Relationships.
Life is tough. Don't do it alone. Strengthening your relationships and working toward improving them shifts your perspective from the lonely and negative to the belonging and positive.
10. Practice the opposite.
Feeling sad, seek something joyful. Feeling anxious, seek calm. Feeling tense, seek relaxation. Feeling judged, show kindness. Feeling overwhelmed, practice gratitude. Reciprocal inhibition can help you shift your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors for relief.
Gratitude takes practice, but the practice is worth the effort. Boost your mind and your body. Download your free gratitude journal below and begin today.
Piper Harris is a Level One T.E.A.M. C.B.T. (cognitive behavioral therapy) clinician through the Feeling Good Institute, an International Coaching Federation Credentialed ACC Life Coach, S.Y.M.B.I.S (Save Your Marriage Before It Starts-faith based) certified counselor, and graduate student in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She empowers her clients to overcome anxiety, depression, relationship issues, weight gain, lost motivation, significant life changes, intimacy issues, navigating boundaries, and more. Piper has over 20 years of experience in counseling and life coaching.
Piper works with individuals ages 21 years and older, and couples, through a foundational C.B.T. approach. Simply put, thinking affects feelings which create behaviors. Through the C.B.T. approach, Piper partners with her clients in seeking to discover how distorted thinking has created emotions and behaviors that are keeping them stuck and in pain.
Additionally, Piper uses an integrative approach to understand attachments and utilize vagal activation techniques. Piper believes healing, and growth is seen through the challenge of change and invites clients to partner with her in discovering wholeness and vitality. Visit piperharris.net or exhalecounselingsvcs.com