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The Science of Gratitude

As me and all my American comrades finish out the week of American Thanksgiving with hopefully overly full bellies, maybe an awkward family interaction or two under our belts; I also hope you were able to take part in a gratitude practice or two, as part of the tradition of being thankful.


I get it, sometimes it feels a tad forced, or maybe disingenuous, going through and listing all of the wonderful stuff you are thankful for, especially if you have to list it in front of family members (hello obligation).


I believe I had a day like the aforementioned earlier in the week. I didn't sleep well, had an early morning with a client, holiday season money stressors at the front of my mind, and I had recently took a leap of faith with my business and am living in the scary no mans land part where its too soon to know if it paid off. As I sat in my car at 6am and forced myself to spit out a list of things that I know I am blessed with, I was still pissed off, but it did keep me from going further down the hole of "woe is me" (which we all know can be incredibly attractive when we are already disgruntled).


At Stunning Athletics we refuse to rely on anything less than evidence based research, and let me tell you, apart from my own ramblings and experience, Science is in BIG FAVOR of gratitude. So there is no reason to keep it to one holiday out of the entire year.

The practice of gratitude, has been proven to be able to strengthen and even change neural pathways in the brain. Gratitude can improve general well-being, increase resilience, strengthen social relationships, and reduce stress and depression. People who practice gratitude also have shown to have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, better sleeps (and better waking). Well hello there parasympathetic state ;)


Our animal brains are designed to scan and track for threats. It's how we survived the great tundra, or ice ages with multiple predators and possible threats. Now that we have less things stalking and hunting us, our brains still strain to find threats. Which is great! It helps keep us alive! But, practicing gratitude doesn't remove the shitty things that happen; it does help our animal brain stay focused on the good that is still there; and as the expression goes 'energy flows, where attention goes.'


Gratitude has the capacity to increase neurochemicals, such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin; with an increase in neural modulation in the prefrontal cortex. The same area of the brain responsible for managing negative emotions like shame, violence and guilt.

BUT gratitude requires consistency. Whatever you do the most of, the brain will make easier for you. So I have included a couple of gratitude exercises I carry in my back pocket when it seems like you keep listing the same three things...

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  1. Whatever you don't put in your gratitude list, you can't take with you into tomorrow...

This one was handed to me by a friend, and boooy how my list grew when I thought about the people, places and things I might not be able to have the next day if they didn't make my list.


2. What compliments would I like to give myself or someone else today?


Its been proven that the neurochemicals associated with gratitude are compounded exponentially when the kind deed or words thought on, come from or are done unto, someone else. Think of compliments you have been paid in the past and repeat them to yourself; and then go help spread the joy by complimenting someone else. Which also makes you feel good.


3. Write a gratitude letter or email to someone you are grateful for.

On those particularly hard days when your mood seems impossible to elevate I really like this exercise. Writing a letter that you deliver, or not, to a person you are grateful for is a very easy way to bring your brain back around to the positive, as we generally find it easier as humans to see the good in others rather than our own situation. On the days where the list is forced and just won't cut it, this is my go to.


The effects of gratitude, when practiced daily can be almost the same as medications. It produces a feeling of long-lasting happiness and contentment, the physiological basis of which lies at the neurotransmitter level. Are you supposed to ignore the ups and downs life is full of? Of course not! (I don't think that's even possible barring being in a coma like state?) Is this a quick pill fix we so deeply love in the

American culture that's easy and requires nothing from you? No ma'am. These tools are supposed to help you get the absolute most and best out of your life.

I am grateful every. single. day. Is it easy everyday? No, but it DOES get easier, and believe me when I tell you that anything worth having that lasts, takes time and practice...and the right perspective.


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