While sometimes it may be tempting to do this when someone mentions gratitude, the benefits are greater than you think!
How being thankful can make your brain happier
It can seem obvious, being thankful for what you have. But it can be easy to fall into the trap of ‘I’ll be happy when…’, waiting for the stars to align and make ‘everything perfect’. In reality this very rarely happens, and we can make ourselves pretty miserable waiting for it.
Comparison is the thief of joy. If you are always looking at what others have or have achieved, it can be very hard to celebrate your own wins or be grateful for the good things in your life. The grass is not really greener on the other side!
How your brain will thank you
Being grateful can make massive changes to your life. It can help you express more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems. It does this by affecting how your brain is functioning- when you express gratitude it affects your hypothalamus (where your stress response is triggered), and your ventral tegmental area (the part of your brain responsible for your reward mechanism that can produce feelings of pleasure). People who have practiced gratitude for as little as 3 months have huge changes in their brain on functional MRI in these areas and others, most to do with pleasure, positive emotion and lowered stress response.
Sometimes it can be easier to recognise what others do for you, before you can see what positives you already have. So, make a start by thinking about the people in your life that help you or do nice things for you. If you are really struggling with this, try to flip around any negatives you notice about people. Rather than picking on what they have missed or could have done better, say thank you for your effort and thanks for making my life a bit easier.
There have been studies that have shown that acting happy can actually make you happy. Smiling has the same effect on your brain whether you want to smile or not. So, you can try a little bit of ‘fake it before you make it’ to help you start.
How to be grateful
There are so many strategies that you can implement to help you show gratitude. Keep it simple and find what works for you. This shouldn’t be a hard or laborious task, so if you’re finding it difficult, start small and make it easier on yourself.
Gratitude is more than just being optimistic or looking on the bright side. It is looking at what you have worked hard for, what you have achieved, how much you have in your life. Even if you first think there is nothing, when you start to look a little deeper there is usually much more than you expect. It is easy to get caught up in the negatives, what you don’t have and what you can’t do, that it can be tricky to appreciate what you can do. Be thankful for what is in your life right now, even if it is a bit challenging, and look forward to everything coming your way in the future. Try it out, if nothing else your brain will thank you for it!
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