“I don’t want to be a more grateful, happier person,” said no one ever.
It’s Thanksgiving Day and many of you are going to gather with family, friends, and loved ones around a table. You may share something you are grateful for, pray, eat great food (can’t wait for pecan pie!), play games, watch football, or do whatever else you do on Thanksgiving.
The bigger question is, Will you continue the practice of gratitude after Thanksgiving? The research tells us that would be a good idea.
The Science of Gratitude
Scientifically speaking, gratitude comes with many benefits. Here are three:
First, Gratitude helps us overcome negativity bias or “our tendency to focus on negative things rather than positive ones.” In short, that’s why we tend to remember the bad days or difficult experiences more than the good ones. It’s not necessarily your fault; it’s a survival mechanism. Our brain tends to give more weight to threats that keep us from harm than good but inconsequential experiences.
Like eating vegetables or exercising, gratitude is like anything else that’s good for us, it takes practice and intentionality.
Second, gratitude retrains our brains by releasing “two ‘feel-good’ chemicals that positively impact mood, willpower, and motivation”: serotonin and dopamine. In short, gratitude makes you happier! This in turn strengthens the neural pathways that allow our brain to focus on “what’s going well versus what isn’t.”
Third, gratitude improves your physical and mental health by releasing toxic emotions, reducing pain, and speeding healing. One study on the neuroscience of gratitude indicated that 16% of patients who kept a gratitude journal reported reduced pain symptoms and were more willing to work out and cooperate with the treatment procedure.” By regulating the levels of dopamine, gratitude reduces the feelings and effects of pain!
There are plenty more benefits to gratitude like better sleep, regulating stress, improved blood pressure, increased empathy, stronger relationships, more likability, and decreased anxiety and depression. Those are big promises but all true to some degree.
It all begins with a practice of gratitude.
There’s No Better Time to Begin a Practice of Gratitude
I’ve been doing a 5-minute gratitude journal almost every day for over one year now. Though I can’t scientifically measure all the benefits to my physical and mental health, I know this: I enjoy it and don’t want to stop doing it! Gratitude, along with a practice of reading the Scriptures and prayer, shapes my day and starts me off on the right foot.
Let’s start right now. Name three things you are thankful for. Try saying them out loud.