The Gratitude Attitude: How Being Grateful Changes Your Brain

There is so much internet garble out there about gratitude. Especially this time of year. 

“Practice gratitude” all the bloggers and essayists will endlessly preach to us from the great expanse of the internet. And yes, the sentiment of practicing gratitude is sweet and all, but *how* on earth do you actually do it? I mean no one at my public school in good ole’ Westport, Connecticut ever taught us wayward teenagers how to practice gratitude! And unless you’re a die-hard yoga-enthusiast or rub elbows with the crème de la crème of the spiritual underworld, it’s doubtful that you’ve ever learned anything about gratitude.

And who are you supposed to ask anyway? Especially in New York City. The MTA? 

Well, darlings, don’t you worry your ever-beating hearts. Because in this sweet, little, blog-post we’re going to breakdown what gratitude really means, how to practice it and what it does to the body!

So this way when your condescending little cousin blabs on and on about the nuances of gratitude, you’ll understand what she’s talking about. Not only will you understand the jargon flying out of her lips, you’ll have practiced it in a real, authentic, non-Instagram-y way. Which is amazing! Because gratitude is pretty lit. so…

What does gratitude actually mean? 

According to the always trust-worthy Merriam-Webster dictionary, “gratitude” is defined as;the state of being grateful: THANKFULNESS.”

It’s the sweeping sensation of warmth we experience when we realize how *awesome* our lives actually are. It’s the fuzzy feeling of really appreciating a person in your life. It’s the sweetness that overcomes the entirety of your being when you recognize that you’re blessed, babe.

And is there a feeling as serene as the feeling of gratefulness? There isn’t. Nothing puts us in a jolly good mood like gratitude, which is why we want to live in a state of perpetual gratitude.

Which as a born and bred cynical New Yorker who has been in therapy her whole life, doesn’t always come naturally. My culture likes to brood over the dark side of life. So how did I crawl out of the sewer and step into the pretty bright light of gratitude? I started practicing it. Which leads me seamlessly into my next point. 

How do I practice gratitude? 

There are many ways to practice gratitude, but I’m going to give you a simple technique I’m wildly certain will change your life. Let me set the scene. 

So let’s imagine you wake up from a restless sleep to the RING RING RING RING of your alarm clock. You’re groggy. You’re fatigued. You’re not looking forward to your pesky, delay-laden commute to work. It’s raining outside. Wah!

You sludge over to make your morning coffee. Maybe you burn your hand as you pour it into your cup (Wah again!). You sit down at the kitchen table already feeling stressed about the bevy of emails sitting in your inbox. And right as you pick up your phone to check your social media channels, I stop you. 

“STOP!” I shout like a drill sergeant. “BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING TODAY WE’RE GOING TO WRITE A GRATITUDE LIST!” 

So what’s a gratitude list? It’s when, before you let all the stress and the nuisances of everyday life to creep into your brain, you jot down at least ten things you’re grateful for (feel free to do more). It could be as simple as “I’m grateful that I didn’t run out of coffee this morning” “I’m grateful my manicure hasn’t chipped yet” to “I’m grateful for the beautiful sun shining its gorgeous rays through my blinds” “I’m grateful for the trees in Central Park” to “I’m grateful I healed my relationship with my mother” “I’m grateful my grandfather is healthy this Thanksgiving.” It doesn’t matter how big or how small the thing you’re grateful for is, it only matters that you write it down. 

And that my dear, is how you practice gratitude. And practicing gratitude is like going to the gym — the more you do it, the more effortless it becomes. Pretty soon you won’t know how you ever lived without it! 

What does gratitude do to your life?  

According to the researchers at happify, the benefits of practicing gratitude are nearly endless. “People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems.” Says writer/researcher Derrick Carpenter, MAPP. 

It makes sense, doesn’t it? When you feel grateful, you are connected to the present moment, you aren’t dissociated. You’re tapping into the positive vibrations of the world, rather than the negative ones. And when you’re tapped into the positive, you’re not going to be tossing and turning, your brain twirling and swirling with twisted thoughts, which means you’ll sleep more peacefully. And the foundation (I think) of a happy life is a blissful night’s rest! 

What does gratitude do to the body?  

So now that we’ve gone through how amazing gratitude is for your life, I’m going to convince you skeptics (I see you). We’re going to discuss the psychological effects of le gratitude. According to studies reported for psychology today by Alex Korb Ph.D. “Feelings of gratitude directly activated brain regions associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine feels good to get, which is why it’s generally considered the ‘reward’ neurotransmitter. But dopamine is also almost important in initiating action. That means increases in dopamine make you more likely to do the thing you just did. It’s the brain saying, ‘Oh, do that again.’”

Some people get dopamine rushes from things that aren’t healthy for us, gambling, garnering likes on Instagram, drugs! Why not get it from feeling grateful? Feeling grateful will not ruin your life like the ladder, it will only amplify it. 

So tell us, sickday family, how do you practice gratitude?