Your Brain on Gratitude
Written by
Emily Wenstrom
November 2012
Written by
Emily Wenstrom
November 2012

Over the summer, I started to realize I'd become kind of a drag. I was tired all the time, not very interested in anything, and easily irritated. There was no good reason for me to be so grumpy. I was just kind of burned out. 

It had to change. 

Inspired by an article I'd read, I started taking 30 seconds each night and writing down five things I was grateful for that day. Anything at all. A good hair day. A free lunch. Whatever. As long as I got at least five of them. The first few days it felt a little dumb, but what did I really have to lose?

And then something really weird happened. A week or two later, I caught myself getting out of bed excited for the day. Excited for work. I'm not excited about anything at 5 a.m. (I mean, who is?)

And from there I started noticing other small but significant changes--I was more social at work, I was appreciating my husband more, had more ideas just come to me out of nowhere. Even though nothing around me had changed, I was having more fun. 

Another couple weeks, and it went even further. I was laughing a ton. Really hard. We're talking unstoppable, full-body laughs. I started getting rushes of giddiness for no reason at all.

At this point it started to freak me out a little bit, so I laid off a little. But the point is: gratitude is some seriously powerful stuff. 

Research as show that, over time, gratitude can rewire your brain. In studies, people who kept a gratitude journal demonstrated increased determination, attention, enthusiasm and energy--all traits that help you be a successful creative. 

Another study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) tracked blood flow to different parts of the brain as people experienced gratitude. Subjects experienced higher activity in the hypothalamus, which controls bodily functions including eating, drinking, sleeping, metabolism and stress levels. Gratitude also activated regions of the brain associated with dopamine, the brain's "reward" chemical.

(Learn more about these studies in Psychology Today's article "The Grateful Brain.")

So what I suggest is that you practice flexing your gratitude. Like a skill or a muscle, gratitude is something you can condition your mind for. 

In fact, why don't we start right now ...

Tell me ... what are you grateful for?

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