For years I have been fascinated with gratitude.  I know it makes me feel better.  But why exactly?  It’s one of the most simple exercises you can do with relatively little effort –  and yet the effects can be quite profound.  Doing some research I was most (pleasantly) surprised to find gratitude linked to all kinds of positive changes that have an effect on not only our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, but also our social relationships and career.  Quite surprisingly studies have show gratitude can help you indirectly achieve your goals, manage your time more efficiently with improved productivity and widen your networking circles.  All of this from a free exercise practiced for five minutes a week.  

Gratitude Makes Us Happier

So how does gratitude “make us happier”?  According to a recent study by Positive Psychology a five-minute weekly gratitude journal can increase your long-term well-being by more than 10 percent ~ which is the same impact as doubling your income!

Gratitude also triggers positive feedback loops.  In other words gratitude makes us feel MORE gratitude.  This is why a five minute a day gratitude journal can make us so much happier.  

The actual gratitude produced during those five minutes is small, but the emotions of gratitude felt during those five minutes are enough to trigger a grateful mood.  The best thing about this is that the grateful mood will trigger more feelings of gratitude and more frequently, which will be more intense and held for longer and we will feel gratitude for more things ~ all at the same time! 

Practiced consistantly gratitude also goes a long way to improving your health, relationships, emotions, personality, and career.

Of course having more money can be great, but because of “hedonic adaption” we humans quickly get bored and stop having as much fun and happiness as we did in the beginning.  

“Hedonic Adaption” means that after repeated exposure to the same emotional stimulus we tend to experience less of the stimulus.  Quite simply – we get used to the good things that happen to us.  We get bored.  Therefore hedonic adaptation keeps us motivated to achieve even greater things.  But it also kills our marriages as we get used to our amazing spouse (or children, or job, or house etc.) and we stop seeing as much positive and then we start to complain.  It is therefore a imperative to resist hedonic adaptation if we want to increase and improve our happiness.  Gratitude is one of the most powerful tools we have to change this.    

Gratitude can also make us healthier

In a study done in 2003 based on Gratitude called “Counting Blessings before Burdens” keeping a gratitude journal caused participants to report 16% fewer physical symptoms, 19% more time spent exercising, 10% less physical pain, 8% more sleep and 25% increased sleep quality.  

It’s pretty evident that the wide variety of effects that gratitude can have may seem surprising, but a direct look at the brain activity during gratitude can offer some interesting insight. A final study worth sharing comes from the National Institute of Health (NIH). Researchers at NIH examined blood flow in various regions of the brain whilst subjects called up feelings of gratitude (Zahn et al, 2009). They found that people who showed more gratitude overall had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus. This is significant  because the hypothalamus controls a huge number of essential bodily functions which include eating, drinking and sleeping. It also has a huge influence on your metabolism and levels of stress.  Based on this evidence regarding brain activity and acts of gratitude it starts to become clear how improvements in gratitude could have such wide-ranging effects from increased exercise, and improved sleep to decreased depression and fewer aches and pains.

What’s more these feelings of gratitude directly activate brain regions associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine feels so good to get and is generally considered the “reward” neurotransmitter. But dopamine is also important in initiating action. That means a dopamine increase makes you more likely to do the thing you just did.

Something else to consider is that your brain interprets gratitude as optimism.

Optimism or rather regular positive thoughts and reactions to life’s challenges, can be observed in brain scans. Optimistic thoughts calm and soothe the amygdala.  The amygdala is the part of the brain that sounds the stress alarm and optimism counteracts this reaction by lowering the stress hormone cortisol, releasing pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters, and activating the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for rest and relaxation.  

The Benefits to Changing Your Default Button  

People who suffer from anxiety often talk about how their thought patterns can spiral out of control quite quickly.  Rewiring your brain so the default was positive instead of negative doesn’t necessarily happen over night but like any new habit cultivating an attitude of gratitude takes practice ~ but one worth doing.  

Three Easy Steps to Get Your Gratitude On: 

Start with a Gratitude Journal 

Prioritise.  Set aside time to write down things that you are grateful for.  It doesn’t matter when you do it or how many times a day ~ just do it.  Scheduling a time can be more effective to begin with and then the rest can just happen organically.  Most people who practice Gratitude Journalling find it is a part of their daily routine that they rarely skip.

Change your Thoughts 

Start before you even roll out of bed.  Mentally list all of the things you are thankful for ~ your kids, your spouse, your dog, your job, your body.  You will still experience the positive benefits of gratitude even without a journal.  

Tell Someone! 

Tell people you are grateful for them every day.  Remember each act of gratitude will not only feel good for those on the receiving end but it will flood your brain with feelings that can have a profound effect on your life and health.  

For more on gratitude and creating the change that you want to see contact Kim on 0459 308 029 or book online for a consult at www.nbip.com.au 

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