Did You Know Gratitude Empowers Your Mind to Grow?
Gratitude and the brain
Did you know gratitude is good for your brain because it empowers your mind to grow?
Before I studied this subject, I tended to walk around like Eeyore or like Puddleglum in The Silver Chair. My glass was half empty; I found little to be grateful for.
When I read verses like “give thanks with a grateful heart”, I shook my head. That’s impossible! Besides, to give thanks when I didn’t feel thankful would be hypocritical!
As I read the Psalms, the Lord showed me David gave thanks as an act of the will, not because he felt thankful.
Ouch! Even if I didn’t want to, because God said give thanks, I needed to comply.
Reluctant and feeling like a martyr, I began to tell the Lord thank you. Though suffering from depression, as I continued, I found myself feeling lighter. I even began feeling hopeful. I had no comprehension of what was happening inside of me, but I liked the results. And so I continued.
When the Lord had me embark on studying the brain, I began to learn amazing things. When God gives a command, there is always a reason. If we obey, we will be blessed. I was especially thrilled when I learned gratitude is good for the brain! One of the most profound benefits from developing an attitude of gratitude is gratitude stimulates the brain stem to produce dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter.
The Lord created your brain with an inner pleasure reward system. Dopamine must be released in the brain for you to experience pleasure and hopefulness. He ordained when you accomplish a task, especially a goal you’ve spent time and energy on, for you to be rewarded. As you attain your goal, there is a sense of gratefulness in your accomplishment, which causes dopamine to be released, flooding you with a pleasurable sensation.
The Lord places a high priority on the subject of thankfulness. Specifically, He commands you to be thankful in every situation. That feels a bit extreme and even foolish.
Why on earth would God want you to find something to be grateful for in the midst of sorrow, anxiety, illness, failure, or tragedy?
First, gratitude stimulates the brain stem to produce dopamine.
I can almost hear you thinking, So what?
This is exciting! Dopamine reduces levels of felt pain in the central nervous system. It also energizes the brain, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Now I don’t know about you, but if I feel sad or depressed, my instinct is to withdraw and wallow in those feelings. But listening to feelings causes me to spiral downwards.
However, when I stop and look for something to give thanks for, my sight alters. Life no longer looks hopeless and I am lifted out of feelings of despair and negativity.
You see, giving thanks stimulates the production and flow of dopamine, which unlocks the prison door and enables you to face life with hope.
Here’s the bottom line. The brain likes to work in cyclic patterns. If you begin in the negativity cycle – the brain fixates and locks you into negative thoughts, spiraling you downwards into depression and even illness.
Your thoughts really do matter. In fact, your thoughts form your reality. If you think “poor me”, your brain believes that is true and helps you find reasons to prove you are powerless. Soon you will say things, like, “There’s no sense trying.” Or, “I can’t do anything right.”
It is easier to think negative thoughts than positive ones. It only takes one negative thought to activate or trigger the amygdala and program you to focus on the negative.
Just like a cow ruminates or chews her cud, your brain meditates, ruminates on negative thoughts that trigger the release of cortisol. When you think with your amygdala, you are thrown into reactivity. It’s almost impossible to be objective or think with your prefrontal cortex, your thinking brain, which enables you to analyze and see things with clarity.
So what does this mean?
Negative thoughts shut down your logical brain. They hold you into negativity by the continual flow of cortisol – the chemical that triggers the release of multiple hormones and chemicals preparing you to fight or to flee. Over time, cortisol locks your body into the stress mode, which is harmful for your brain and for you.
But guess what! The moment you begin to give thanks and sing praise songs, it shuts down the flow of cortisol and the reactivity of the amygdala. Your brain is released from its negative spiral and negative meditation where you are locked in rumination and passivity.
Yes! You do meditate. Negative thoughts are meditation that shuts off your ability to receive or hear words of love and kindness.
Gratitude is good for your brain! It causes dopamine to be released, brings clarity of thought and attention, and increases your problem solving abilities.
As you move into positive meditation, you relax, enabled to face stress without being stressed. Gratitude causes you to experience more enjoyment in your interactions with others.
Grateful, relaxed, and experiencing joy means your mental health improves. As a bonus, any pain you are experiencing is also reduced. When your brain is happy, your health improves.
I am sure you’re with me on this one. Gratitude enables the brain to focus in a positive way that increases production of dopamine.
It goes without saying, the brain loves extra dopamine; as you develop an attitude of gratitude, your gratefulness begets more gratitude. It is really fun for your brain becomes adept at finding things to be grateful for and you become a more pleasant person to be around.
I hear you saying, all this sounds good in theory, but how do you become more grateful when everything is going wrong?
I’m glad you asked!
Get yourself a notebook. It doesn’t have to be fancy but you will be more apt to use it, if your senses find it appealing.
Place your journal by your bed or on your desk where you will see it. Have a pen ready. Every day, take a few minutes to write down three to five things you are grateful for. It can be simple things like:
Thank you Lord I am breathing.
Thank you Lord I have a job.
Thank you Lord for the beautiful sunset.
Thank you for Jesus.
Thank you for loving me.
If you can’t think of anything, take a verse of Scripture like, “I will give thanks to you, O Lord” (Psa 30:12), or use phrases from a song like How Great Thou Art.
What you write doesn’t have to be deep or profound. Just make a beginning.
- Date each entry.
- Do it before you turn off the light for bed.
- Or do it when you take a coffee break in the afternoon.
- Find a place for your journal.
- Decide what time of day works best for you.
- Then do it!
You will be amazed. Studies demonstrate people who write in their Gratitude Journal even three times a week – engage in less toxic thinking, are happier, more contented, are better able to problem solve, and become better equipped to face adversity.
My dear friend, seize the day! Release the flow of dopamine as you begin to count the blessings the Lord has given you.
I’d love to hear how you are doing with your Gratitude Journal.
Have a fun day with Jesus!
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So amazing how God’s commands are proven by science! I’m adding this to my gratitude journal today: Thank you for this timely reminder from Ms. Barbara to give thanks in everything, and for the wonderful blessings You have in giving thanks! 🙂
I am always excited, Joy, when I learn a fresh way science gives the backstory, so to speak, of something the Lord has told us to do. As our Creator, He knows exactly what we need and what will pull us out of the slough of despond. He is so good. Glad you are using your journal! Keep journaling! It is good for body, the soul, and the spirit! How cool is that?!