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Attitude of Gratitude

Attitude of Gratitude Image

Much Obliged

‘Tis the season to start thinking about what we’re grateful for. But gratitude is way too valuable to our physical health and well-being to be relegated to one day a year, as we sit around a table with loved ones, ready for a feast. You may think that gratitude is just a feeling… but it is so much more than that! Practicing gratitude can actually alter the neural pathways in your brain to create positivity and happy habits.   

“I can no other answer make but thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks.”

William Shakespeare


Grass is Greener Where You Water It

If you think it’s still greener on the other side, then you are probably not living life with “gratitude-colored” glasses on.  Do you know someone (maybe yourself) who walks around like they’ve got their own personal rain cloud? Negativity comes in all shapes and sizes… complaining, pessimism, arguing, criticism, sadness, hopelessness, fear. Chances are pretty high that if someone lives like this, they’re probably lonely too. There’s a reason “Debbie Downer” became an instant pop culture term after the airing of the highly relatable skit on Saturday Night Live. It’s hard to maintain relationships when you can’t see the good in those around you and be thankful for them.  Living with all this negativity can not only make you lonely, but it wreaks havoc on your health. Stress levels rise, along with blood pressure, it’s harder to sleep well, and there can be frequent headaches and overall unhappiness. That’s an intense influence that your thoughts have in your life!

On the flip side of that, gratitude has been shown to have numerous benefits to your health and well-being. Focusing your mind on what you are grateful for can have the following effects on your body:


  • Boosts immunity
  • Increases heart health
  • Calms nervous system
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Better sleep
  • Increases chances of engaging in healthy activities


Not to mention the benefits for your emotional well-being, such as:

  • Happiness
  • Positivity
  • Satisfaction
  • Deeper relationships
  • Resilience


But is it possible to go from a cloud of negativity to a heart filled with gratitude? Well, yes! There are some pretty interesting scientific facts that support the idea that you can change the way your brain thinks about something. Even if you are a “Debbie Downer,” you have some control over changing that.

For instance, the part of your brain that handles voluntary movements, conditional learning, action selection, and emotion is called the basal ganglia. This part of the brain is situated on top of the midbrain, right at the base of the forebrain. What happens in this area of the brain is pretty cool, and this is the best attempt we can offer to explain why… without sounding too much like a stuffy textbook. Each time you perform an action, there are neurons that fire off in your brain at the beginning and the end of each action.  These firing neurons release a hit of dopamine each time. As this action is repeatedly performed, the hits of dopamine start to form stronger neuro pathways. Over time, these stronger pathways become what we call habits.

Here is where this gets really exciting. That means we can decide what we want to think about, be consistent and purposeful in dwelling on those thoughts, and essentially rewire the way our brains work! This is also called self-directed neuroplasticity. And when you choose to focus on gratitude, you are choosing to receive all the benefits mentioned above and release yourself from the cycle of negativity.


Thank Your Lucky Stars

So what does it mean when we say “focus on gratitude”?  Well, here are some practical tips to help you on your journey to get those neurons firing away. Some of the best suggestions we’ve found are:


Keep a gratitude journal. Any time you think of something you’re grateful for, write it down. Engaging in concrete actions  (like getting out your notebook or opening an app and writing/typing something down) will help more neurons fire off for each action and get you closer to creating a new habit of gratitude.


Write thank you letters. Yes, good old fashioned thank you letters. You don’t even have to send them, but the act of writing them and letting your mind ruminate on what you are thankful for is good practice itself.


Set gratitude alarms. Take a few minutes throughout the day to pause and focus on something you are grateful for in that moment. You can set as many or as few alarms as you like, but perhaps start with one in the morning and one at night, and work your way up from there.


Daily affirmations have become popular recently, for good reason. If you are going to spend time and effort training your brain to be thankful to those around you and send positive vibes out into the world, then you can’t leave yourself out. Start by deciding on a few statements of gratitude toward yourself. Then every morning, say them to yourself, out loud, in the mirror. It may feel strange at first, but get used to being thankful for yourself and your life. You won’t be successful in reaping the benefits of a gratitude practice if you’re not appreciating your own strengths.


The Little Things

Your takeaway for today… pick one of the practical tips from the list above, and commit to trying it for one week. Start today, and then at the end of this week start next week’s list with “I’m grateful I decided to try a one week gratitude challenge and followed through.” I’m sure once you get started, it will be hard to stop. Give it a try and see how much the attitude of gratitude can change!


**Additional Resources


The Science of Gratitude - Mindful

Exploring the Brain's Relationship to Habits | NSF - National Science Foundation

Gratitude and the Brain: What is Happening? (

GGSC-JTF_White_Paper-Gratitude-FINAL.pdf (

Distinctive brain pattern helps habits form: Study identifies neurons that fire at the beginning and end of a behavior as it becomes a habit -- ScienceDaily

How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain (

The Science of Habit: How to Rewire Your Brain (

Book Recommendation: The Gratitude Project (

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