At this point, everyone has heard about Gratitude. Expressing gratitude, gratitude journals, gratitude letters- it is everywhere, especially this week.
However, as a therapist, I am always asking two questions: why and how? For those of you who do not resonate with the idea of practicing gratitude, perhaps the neuroscience behind it might compel you.
Research out of UC Berkley as well as published in the Wharton Healthcare Quarterly and the WSJ detail what the brain looks like “on gratitude.” Expressing gratitude, as described in my last post, or showing gratitude to someone stimulates a release of dopamine- the neurochemical responsible for giving you a natural high, triggering a release of positive emotions. Dopamine can be linked to increased social behavior and connection, increased performance and achievement, as well as intrinsic motivation in goal accomplishment.
For those who are resistant to gratitude journaling, writing down positive moments in our personal lives or at work will stimulate the release of serotonin-the infamous neurochemical targeted by antidepressants or our happy molecule. Serotonin naturally enhances our mood, our willpower and increases motivation.
So why engage in these behaviors regularly? The more we activate these neutral circuits the stronger they get which that happens over time and with frequency of behavior. The brain’s neuroplasticity, or the ability to form new neural pathways, allows us to change our mood, our focus and our productivity through these gratitude actions at any point in our lives! But it doesn’t take that long to experience the positive mood benefits of focusing on what is good.
I keep a very basic, bullet point gratitude journal. That way I have it all in one place and do not have to sift through tons of writing to look back and remember. Having an easy way to remember is so important, as we can have good things happen on Monday and often forget it by Thursday, so to have a quick reference is very helpful. More on how to do this later, for now consider this phrase that often redirects my focus in 30 seconds “Not every day is good but there is something good in every day.” Start looking!