This is the time of year where gratitude gets a lot of attention. It’s nice to have a holiday that’s based in acknowledging all that we’ve received. As Thanksgiving comes and goes and life happens, it may be difficult to maintain that mindset of gratitude. I’ve been reading a book titled, The Upward Spiral, by Alex Korb. Korb does a great job of explaining neuroscience and depression including some very practical things we can all do to increase our happiness and well-being,
I hope some of this information will help inspire you to have a mindset of gratitude throughout the year.
Before I talk about some of the benefits of being grateful, you might have wondered what to do if you have a hard time getting into a space where you can begin a gratitude practice. Research has shown that identifying your emotions that are causing you to feel down will help. In other words, give your emotions a name. Feeling frustrated or sad or anxious? Say it. When you’re overwhelmed with ill feelings, simply stating what it is you’re feeling will keep the emotion from lingering around…sort of like family members during a holiday visit at the Griswolds. : )
In other words, the negative feelings get processed faster when you name them. The amygdala in your brain, where emotional reactivity occurs, will be less likely to get hijacked if you name your emotions. An amygdala hijack during the holidays will not be pretty. If this sounds too simple or stupid, research shows that while suppressing emotions may give the appearance that all is good on the outside, your limbic system is as aroused and sometimes more aroused than if you hadn’t suppressed the emotion. Your limbic system controls your basic emotions like fear, anger, pleasure. Suppressing emotions will potentially make you more reactive. This doesn’t mean that you need to be reactive, yell or scream to express your emotions. It simply means that you just name the emotion you’re feeling without getting reactive and this will help process what you’re feeling so that your brain doesn’t get hijacked. and you can get back to the thinking part of your brain.
Getting back to developing a gratitude practice…
What happens inside your brain when you’re grateful? A really interesting fact—when you’re scanning your brain for things that you’re thankful for, then you’re automatically targeting or putting a spotlight on the positive things in your life. When you do this, your serotonin increases. How cool is that? A natural way to increase your serotonin levels without a pill or spending any money. Serotonin is a chemical in your brain that is linked to feeling good and living longer.
If you’re truly stuck, because you’ve experienced some extra tough times or setbacks and you can’t come up with anything to be grateful for..it doesn’t matter. Just the act of scanning your brain for things to be grateful for still increases serotonin even if you can’t think of one single thing to be grateful for. It’s the act of searching that increases serotonin.
Another interesting thing about being grateful on a regular basis is that over time, your brain will change in such a way that being grateful will take less effort.
If you want to develop a gratitude practice, you might start by writing down three things you’re grateful for every morning when you wake up or every evening before you go to sleep. Or you can make it a habit when arrive at work each day to think of three things you appreciate about your life.
If you want to get the ball rolling and you want to increase your feel good chemicals, you’re welcome to list some things you’re grateful for in the comments here. I’ll leave the name of the reference I used for the majority of the information discussed here below this post.
Book referenced: The Upward Spiral by Alex Korb