Are you thinking of learning how to practice gratitude in your everyday life? Do you want to change your mindset? Are you unsure of where to start? If any of these questions sparked your curiosity then you are in the right place. Grateful thinking provides clarity, changes neural structures in the brain, and makes us feel happy. Being grateful helps us connect to something bigger than ourselves, and it helps us live an overall healthier life. 

Learn how to practice gratitude every day with the tips below.

What is Gratitude?

Gratitude is the feeling of appreciation towards something or someone. The word gratitude comes from the Latin word gratus, which translates to thankful and pleasing. Gratitude is the response the receiver (you) has towards the giver (someone or something). For example, when someone shows an act of kindness, we are pleased and appreciative.  

Gratitude provides us with psychological benefits that improve our mental health. Research shows that people who “count their blessings” and show gratitude are less depressed. Additionally, we see improvements in our mental and physical health due to the rewiring of pathways in the brain. Gratitude can not only change you but also your brain! The chemistry in the brain changes and rewires neuropathways. For example, grateful thinking activates the brain stem to produce dopamine. Dopamine is our brain’s pleasure chemical and it is released when we think positively. 

Gratitude is taking the time to recognize the good that is present in your life and around you. Gratitude falls into the category of being thankful and showing recognition towards people and things. According to Harvard Health, gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish in good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. Gratitude allows you to be in the present moment. By simply reflecting on the things you are grateful for, you are able to slow down and be aware of the good things in your life.

Things to be grateful for…

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Relationships
  • Work
  • Your funny coworker
  • Physical Health
  • Our body
  • Nature 
  • Warm homes
  • Special holidays
  • Pets
  • Your sassy cat
  • Education
  • Laughter
  • Good hair days
  • Food
  • Netflix 
  • Food
  • Emotional regulation
  • Your ability to connect with others
  • And so much more!

Adopting an attitude of gratitude, showing thanks and appreciation can significantly improve your mental and physical health. Human beings have used gratitude for thousands of years. Cultures around the world have made the mind-body connection with mental well-being. When our body and mind are aligned and in balance, we see great benefits.

By practicing gratitude, we are strengthening our minds and our physical well-being to see great rewards. 

Why Should I Learn How to be Grateful?

There are endless numbers of reasons why you should learn to be grateful. Gratitude brings happiness and improves mental and physical well-being. Gratitude helps us make sense of the past, sends peace for today, and creates hope for tomorrow. The gap between where you are and where you think you need to be is what we call anxiety and depression. Oftentimes, in anxiety or depression, we can be looking too far into the future or stuck in the past. Showing gratitude grounds you in the present moment by having you think in the here and now. 

Research shows that you can’t be angry (past, depression) and grateful simultaneously. You also can’t be fearful (future, anxiety) and grateful at the same time. Gratitude is a good reframe and can be the solution to anger or fear. For example, when you get angry with your toddler for having a temper tantrum at the grocery store, you can reframe it to gratefulness that you get to be present with your child, that they are able to lean into their emotions in an unabridged, unashamed way, and you have the opportunity to comfort and teach them at that moment. Another example would be looking at something you fear as an invited challenge, something that will get you outside of your comfort zone to grow and be grateful for that opportunity. 

The Neuroscience Behind Gratitude

When we think of human emotions, there’s a lot! Interestingly, gratitude is known to be the healthiest of all human emotions. It is seen as the healthiest emotion because of the positive benefits it has on our physical and mental health. As humans, we are able to experience and label the difference between positive/negative and healthy/unhealthy emotions. Emotions are useful to us and we are constantly learning from them. Emotions have the ability to grant us insight into different situations in our lives. We can learn and grow from allowing all types of emotions into our space. The human body responds to these different emotions in different ways. 

The human brain controls our physiological functioning. The effect of gratitude on the brain is long-lasting and impactful. We are able to track gratitude and its effect on the human body all the way back to the neural mechanisms involved. Neural mechanisms are neural circuits and regions of the brain that are involved in regulating the body’s homeostasis.

The “Feel Good” Emotions

Our brain releases serotonin and dopamine when we express and receive gratitude. Dopamine and serotonin, also known as the “feel good” emotions, are both two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions. These neurotransmitters have the ability to enhance our mood and ultimately leave us feeling happy. Every time we practice gratitude, we train these neurotransmitter pathways and strengthen them. Now imagine implementing gratitude into your everyday life. Over time, these pathways will strengthen and will change our outlook on life in a positive way.

What’s Actually Happening in Our Brains

Gratitude research shows the impact it has on the brain. The active practice of gratitude and grateful thinking rewires our brains. Grateful thinking is connected to the reward system of the brain. The reward systems in the brain are a group of structures that become activated when we experience something rewarding. The structures within the reward system are found among the primary dopamine pathways of the brain.

When we experience something rewarding, the brain responds by releasing an increased amount of dopamine. Dopamine neurons are activated before the reward is received.  According to Positive Psychology, scientists have suggested that by activating the reward center of the brain, gratitude giving and receiving can change the way we see ourselves and the world around us. Gratitude positively impacts the brain, which then results in strengthening our view of the world.

Hebb’s Law states, “neurons that fire together wire together.” This law states the more activation (firing) of neurons, the easier it is for them to create a new pathway (wiring together). In this regard, neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to physically rewire itself. Grateful thinking causes the brain to undergo neuroplasticity by physically changing and making more neural connections.

Grateful exchanges impact the brain’s prefrontal cortex (the front of our brain that helps us to have deductive reasoning/critical thinking skills: foresight and consideration of consequences for things), which develops last (on average by the age of 25-years-old). The medial prefrontal cortex is responsible for making decisions and is linked to learning. When the “feel-good” neurotransmitters, similar to antidepressants, activate the bliss center of the brain it brings us feelings of happiness and contentment. To continue the activation of the feel-good neurotransmitters, we need to train the prefrontal cortex with regular practice of grateful thinking. The more exposure we have to grateful thinking, our brains will be able to retain positive experiences and thoughts and deflect negative thoughts. 

Benefits of Gratitude

Gratitude is known to have many benefits. Gratitude can…. 

  • Reduce Anxiety and Depression
    • Shifting the focus from what we don’t have to what we do have.
    • Studies show it is impossible to feel depressed and grateful at the same moment.
    • Grateful thinking releases serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, which are all correlated to depression and anxiety when in a deficit.
  • Improve Sleep Quality
    • Simple acts of kindness activate the hypothalamus, the body’s control center for sleep and arousal. 
  • Reduce Stress and Burnout
    • Gratitude reduces the level of cortisol, the brain’s stress hormone.
  • Increase Resilience & Mental Strength
    • Gratitude builds our inner strength by managing and encouraging positive emotions. 
    • Gratitude reminds us of what we are capable of and empowers us for further courage and motivation. 
  • Improve Emotional Regulation
    • Gratitude allows individuals to be grounded in the present moment. The ability to be in the present moment grants one to have control over their emotional state.
  • Foster Hope For The Future
    • Grateful thinking has the ability to positively change one’s outlook on the future through rewiring our brains and helping shift our perspective/worldview
  • Regulate The Effective Functioning of The Immune System
    • Grateful thinking impacts the mind-body connection
  • Reduce Blood Pressure
    • Gratitude helps individuals slow down and reduce stressful situations by changing their outlook on life. 
  • Reduce Pain/ Less Chronic Pain
    • Grateful thinking can lead to an optimistic view of life. Individuals living with chronic pain can see improvements in their physical health and quality of life through an optimistic lens.
      • Studies show by having a positive outlook on your diagnosis, you are more likely to have less severe symptoms, be less impacted by the diagnosis, and have fewer complications. 
  • What else have you noticed that your gratefulness has impacted in your life?

That’s a lot of benefits! The benefits gratitude brings us can change our lives for the better.

Gratitude helps people think of what they do have versus what they are lacking. Learning how to shift the focus from what you don’t have to what you have has powerful benefits. 

The “Secret” to Achieving Genuine Happiness

Genuine happiness looks different to most people. The happiness we feel comes from within and is a state of mind. When a person experiences genuine happiness, they often feel satisfied, authentic, and euphoric. Having an optimistic outlook on life helps in achieving genuine happiness. 

Do you want to know a secret? There are three things in life that can bring you genuine happiness. Now, take a moment to guess what they might be. No, it’s not money. No, it’s not reaching your goal weight either. And, no it’s not becoming a social media influencer. I’ll share the three things with you! The three things in life that can bring you genuine happiness are…

Health– Your overall mental and physical health is a part of achieving genuine happiness. When the body and mind are in a healthy place it enables a person to live their life to the healthiest and fullest. What does health mean to you? How do you want to achieve your version of health? 

Here are some ideas of health: 

  • Getting a physical every year
  • Getting your teeth cleaned every six months
  • Going to therapy
  • Checking in with yourself, how are you: emotionally, physically, mentally?
  • What is your relationship with food? 
    • What foods are you eating for nutrition? 
    • For joy? 
    • For communal purposes?
    • For coping?
  • How often are you getting outside? 
  • How often are you getting alone time or time with family/friends?
  • How much screen time are you getting?
  • Is your home conducive to the lifestyle you want? 
  • Is your home set up for your abilities? 
  • How far/close are you to different resources you enjoy or need (e.g., grocery store, gym, work, friends, hobbies)

Relationships– Relationships are important in shaping our level of happiness. Relationships include romantic, friendship, familial, and acquaintanceships. Fulfilling relationships within these different types of relationships are important aspects of happiness. 

Here are some ideas of fulfilling relationships:

  • Ones that entail good communication
  • Ones where you have room to grow and explore
  • Ones that you can lean on in tough times
  • Ones that you feel you have healthy levels of independence and interdependence
  • Ones that you can set boundaries in and those boundaries are respected
  • Ones that you feel comfortable being assertive with your needs 
  • Ones where you feel seen and heard
  • Ones where you can be yourself and not hide parts of you

Work– Our experience at work is a factor and it contributes to our overall happiness. Most people are shocked when they hear that their work is a factor in achieving genuine happiness. The average person spends 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime. That’s a lot of time! The work environment, co-workers, and the work itself all play a role with one another. 

Here are some ideas of a good work environment:

  • Having your work be aligned with the answer to ‘why do you work?’ If it’s for the money and you make the amount of money desired, great! If it’s to do something meaningful and you feel your work is making a difference, great! So, ask yourself, why do I work, and then does your work now align with that answer? 
  • Liking your coworkers
  • Feeling comfortable to speak up
  • Feeling seen and heard
  • Doing something that aligns with your ethics
  • A place that respects your boundaries
  • Tasks that are a healthy level of challenging and rewarding
  • Having the benefits you desire or need both in the work setting (e.g., ping pong table, coffee machine, open concept, cubicles) or packages (e.g., time off, 401k, stock options)
  • A place that is responsive to your grievances
  • Having the amount of autonomy/agency or guidance/direction you desire/need
  • Having a work culture you desire (casual vs. regimented)
  • Getting to choose how you set up your work environment (e.g., can you work from home, can you design your office, can you work from anywhere)

When most people hear the “secret” to achieving happiness, they are often stunned. It can sound strange at first to accept these 3 different factors but they all play a major role in achieving genuine happiness. These areas impact our life and I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on your overall health, relationships, and work. When reflecting on these 3 different areas in your life, ask yourself a few questions. Am I happy in these areas? What can I do to improve these areas? What’s working and what’s not working? Am I truly satisfied? Do I feel grateful in these areas?

How to Practice Gratitude Activity: 5 Ways to Practice Gratitude

5 ways to practice gratitude everyday

There are many ways to practice gratitude and implement it into your everyday life. By taking 5-10 minutes each day to show gratitude it’s proven to have huge benefits on your overall well-being. Ask yourself what you want to get out of each day. Do I want to spend 10 minutes on TikTok or YouTube, or do I want to spend 10 minutes sitting in my own gratitude? It’s the simple choices that add up and, over time, greatly impact our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

Five-Minute Journal Exercise (From The Five-Minute Journal by Intelligent Change)

This is a gratitude journal prompt that you can use daily. The purpose of this exercise is to have you take a second and pause to reflect on what you are grateful for. Remember, try to be as specific as possible as being too general doesn’t give you the same effects as specificity. This exercise challenges you to see the good and it reframes your thinking in a positive manner. With the help of this prompt, you can start the process of incorporating gratitude into your everyday life. These questions help you focus on what you do have versus what you don’t have. 

MORNING ROUTINE

1. I am grateful for…

When you first wake up, ask yourself what you are grateful for. Writing down what you are grateful for first thing in the morning allows you to view the day in a positive light. By actively searching for the good, you are in the process of silencing negative thoughts.

2. What would make today great?

By writing down things that would make today great, you are intentionally setting possible goals for yourself. Thinking of ways to make the day great you are training your brain to see the good. You are in the process of reaching marginal goals.

3. Daily affirmation. I am…

Affirmations are the practice of positive thinking and self-empowerment. Writing down affirmations fosters a sense of belief and confidence. Examples of affirmations include, “I am strong, I am worthy, and I am enough.” Writing down positive statements about oneself allows one to overcome negative thoughts.

NIGHTTIME ROUTINE

4. Write 3 amazing things that happened today…

The nighttime questions are extremely beneficial in maintaining grateful thinking. You are in the process of searching for the good when you reflect on “amazing” things that happened throughout the day. Reflecting on good things from the day changes neuron pathways in the brain, and over time it will become easier.

5. How could I have made today better?

Reflecting on what could have made the day even better gives you the chance to go back and change something from the day. You have the opportunity to reflect back on the day and ask yourself what could’ve gone better. By doing this you are reminding yourself that you hold the power to make positive changes. You are able to see positive changes in the future rather than dwelling on the past. You are in the driver’s seat of your own life and you are in control of making influential changes.

Here is a link to access the Five-Minute Journal used above.

Are you Struggling to Learn How to Practice Gratitude?

Gratitude provides us with psychological benefits that improve our mental health. Grateful thinking opens the door to new and exciting possibilities. It is normal to feel stuck in the past or worry about the future. Grateful thinking kickstarts change by challenging us to see the good in the world.

When we allow ourselves to slow down and really think about what and who we are grateful for, our mind and body can relax and have an overall positive response. If you want to start learning how to incorporate grateful thinking or have questions about starting the process, feel free to schedule an appointment at The Better You Institute with one of our Philadelphia therapists. Call us today, 267-495-4951 to set up your appointment.

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