The Gift of Gratitude

Learn how the GIFT OF GRATITUDE can help you become instantly happier and healthier…

Did you know that it’s impossible to be in a negative state of mind when you are in a genuine state of gratitude because our mind cannot focus on positive and negative information at the same time? This is why I often prescribe gratitude to my patients as the best natural anti-depressant for the soul…

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” – Proverb

The Gift of Gratitude: Navigating turbulent times

There is no doubt that we have been living in turbulent times of late. First Brexit then Coronavirus and Ukraine. Every time we turn on the TV, we seem to be bombarded with messages about the energy and cost of living crisis. It’s no wonder we might be feeling a little discombobulated and out of sorts.

While it’s totally understandable that many of us might be feeling worried by the current uncertain financial climate and how it might personally affect us and our families. It’s good to be mindful of how these gloomy and fear forecasting global news narratives can have a detrimental domino effect on the quality of our own everyday personal thinking.

The Gift of Gratitude: Managing our media consumption

I know it can get me down if I spend too long listening to negative news bulletins and I’m sure I am not alone, so one thing I do now is limit my daily news consumption. It’s good to be informed but it’s not good to be overloaded or scared and that’s coming from someone who used to work in the media.

With the threat of fuel shortages, soaring energy bills and projected black outs this winter we would be forgiven for feeling angry, resentful or concerned again but before we start falling into worry mode it’s important to remember that there is one quick and easy thing that we can ALL instantly do to counterbalance the fear and it’s totally FREE – FOCUS ON WHAT WE DO HAVE INSTEAD.

The Gift of Gratitude: How Gratitude affects the brain

Did you know that it’s impossible to be in a negative state of mind when you are in a state of gratitude because our mind cannot focus on positive and negative information at the same time? So, in this sense, gratitude is almost like a natural anti-depressant.

Consistent evidence has established that the science behind what we call ‘emotions’ or ‘feelings’ are actually neural activations in the neocortical regions of the brain and studies have now shown that the hippocampus and amygdala (the two main sites in the brain regulating emotions, memory, and bodily functioning) get activated with expressions of gratitude.

Ultimately then, the effects of gratitude (when practiced daily) can almost be the same as prescribed medication. By displacing our attention from problems to solutions, gratitude practices actually hit the serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin neurotransmitters that make us feel good and produce feelings of happiness and contentment.

At a neurobiological level, gratitude regulates the sympathetic nervous system that activates our anxiety responses, and at the psychological level, it conditions the brain to filter the negative thoughts and focus on the positive thoughts instead.

“Enjoy the little things. For one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” – Robert Brault

The Gift of Gratitude: Learn how to train your brain 

While it’s understandable in these strange and uncertain times that we might sometimes struggle with this idea and have valid and legitimate concerns (that nobody is dismissing or taking lightly) – the key is not to stay in a worry or lack head space too long…

It’s important to remember that our brain is conditioned to function in a repeated way, so if we focus too much on the adverse outcomes, we might subconsciously re-wire our brain to only look for negative information. This kind of cumulative negative thinking can be very bad for our mental health if left unchecked and can make a challenging day ten times worse.

The secret is to acknowledge our worries and then let them pass. Progress is not letting go of all fear, or pretending that everything is fine when clearly, we are facing big challenges. It’s just not dwelling in that worry space for so long or fear-forecasting.

The Gift of Gratitude: Don’t just say it. Make sure you feel it

By consciously practicing gratitude, every day we can help the neural pathways in our brain strengthen themselves and re-train our mind to selectively search for the good, thus reducing anxiety and feelings of fear and apprehension. Significant studies over the years have established that by practicing gratitude we can handle stress better than others.

We always have a choice about which perspective we take and which way to the view the world and I would always advocate electing to see it from the glass half full perspective. Doing this very quickly reminds you of all the wonderfully positive things in your life right now and the bad day that you were previously having can be transformed in an instant.

Don’t just say the words though – try and really identify and feel the gratitude in your heart as well. By doing this you’ll be amazed by how quickly you can help change your mind-set and appreciate all the things you might have forgotten you already had.

“To be content with what we possess is the greatest and most secure of riches.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

The Gift of Gratitude: Notice what you may take for granted

One of the first things I noticed during the Pandemic was how thankful we became for so many things which in the past we probably took for granted (most noticeably our health). A sure-fire way to ramp up our appreciation for anything is to remove access to it whether that’s the big things like our friends and family; everyday things like food and medical supplies or just little things like toilet roll or a plain old simple bar of soap!

By merely acknowledging and appreciating the little things in life, we can rewire the brain to deal with the present big circumstances with more awareness and broader perception which given the current climate has to be a good thing right? It’s amzing how many things we take for granted just like our health

The Gift of Gratitude: The Science Behind Gratitude

When we are in a state of gratitude, various changes occur in our brain that contribute to improved mental and physical health. Here’s a look at the scientific basis of how gratitude affects the brain:

1. Neurotransmitter Activity:

Gratitude activates the brain’s reward system, increasing dopamine production, which enhances feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Practicing gratitude also boosts serotonin levels, promoting feelings of well-being and happiness.

2. Brain Regions Activated

The prefrontal cortex, involved in decision-making and emotion regulation, shows increased activity during gratitude practices. This can enhance cognitive functions and emotional resilience. The Anterior Cingulate Cortex which is associated with social emotions like empathy and bonding, is also activated, fostering stronger social connections and empathy.

3. Stress Reduction

Gratitude has also been linked to lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This reduction helps alleviate stress and its associated negative health effects.

4. Enhanced Neural Plasticity

Regular gratitude practice can promote neural plasticity, which is the brain’s ability to form new connections and adapt. This can improve overall cognitive flexibility and emotional regulation.

5. Improved Sleep

Gratitude can lead to better sleep quality by reducing negative pre-sleep thoughts and anxiety, further contributing to overall mental health.

6. Increased Emotional Regulation

By focusing on positive aspects of life, gratitude helps in down-regulating negative emotions and enhancing emotional regulation capabilities.

7. Social Bonding

Gratitude enhances the activity in brain regions related to social bonding, promoting stronger relationships and social support networks.

Studies using fMRI scans and other neuroimaging techniques have provided evidence for these effects, showing that gratitude not only improves psychological well-being but also has a tangible impact on brain function and structure. Overall, gratitude fosters a positive feedback loop in the brain, enhancing emotional and physical health.

“Remember – if you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million who will not survive the week. If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75 percent of the world. If you have money in the bank or in your wallet, you are among the top 80 percent of the world’s wealthy. If you hold up your head with a smile on your face and are truly thankful, you are blessed because the majority can, but most do not.” Author Unknown

GIFT OF GRATITUDE WISDOM WORKOUT

So how can we start feeling more grateful?

If there is just one exercise, that I would ask ALL my clients to do, it would be to start a gratitude journal. Or a slightly quirkier idea (which everyone can get involved with) is to create a family friendly gratitude jar.

How to get started…

Find a glass jar and put it in a very visible place in your house. Every time you feel and/or experience gratitude, write it on a sheet of paper fold it up and put it in your gratitude jar.

When you are feeling like a pick me up in future – you (or the kids) can simply stick your hands into the jar and pull out a piece of paper to remind us all the things you are thankful for.

Jane Eggleton Online Hypnotherapy (Wisdom Room) making hand heart

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