At the end of the day we all want the same thing, don't we? A happy life filled with love, laughter, health, and stability. While this might be the most basic way to explain what we’re all really after, it’s inherently what we seek as humans.
We take active steps throughout our lives to achieve this idea of happiness. But what if one of the most powerful steps you could take was giving yourself a second to recognize what you currently have?
The neuroscience of gratitude might just be more powerful than you think.
What is gratitude?
Simply put, gratitude is the expression of appreciation for what you currently have. It does not include monetary worth, but rather is a clear affirmation of goodness.
Gratitude is a powerful human emotion commonly expressed through simple messages in which we say thanks. It’s associated with happiness as it brings on feelings of gratification and encouragement, and helps to strengthen personal relationships.
When you express gratitude, you bring on feelings of pleasure for both you and the people around you. This has a major influence on other aspects of our lives as anxiety and stress are reduced, and we become better equipped to deal with challenges.
The Neuroscience of Gratitude
It turns out that gratitude goes as far as to influence neural mechanisms. Studies show that those who put effort into counting their blessings are both happier and less depressed. And these feelings associated with gratitude are evoked in the right anterior temporal cortex.
Expressions of gratitude are received by the brain and allow it to release serotonin and dopamine. These feel good neurotransmitters put us in a better mood and increase our overall happiness.
Gratitude and its Effect on Anxiety
Practicing gratitude can have a direct effect on anxiety, which is produced as a part of the fight or flight response.
When we feel danger coming on, our body releases hormones that increase adrenaline and encourage us to make a quick decision (fight or flight). This does not leave the brain with substantial time to analyze the situation, and make a proper decision.
As anxiety worsens, many will start to feel insecure, which leads to the inability to cope with stressful situations.
Practicing gratitude can help to offset this with positive psychology. It’s possible to train the brain to actively produce positive emotions and therefore reduce overall anxiety.
From a neurobiological standpoint, gratitude helps to regulate the sympathetic nervous system which in turn regulates anxiety. It’s important to know that anxiety can lead to long-term chronic stress, which comes with many unwanted consequences.
(You can learn more about these long-term consequences here.)
Neuroscience of Gratitude: Grief
While it may sound incredibly difficult, expressions of gratitude can actually help when it comes to coping with grief.
Finding hope in bad times is made possible when we can make sense of the past and move forward from it. We can help ourselves to move forward and create a better tomorrow.
Gratitude opens the door to us being able to appreciate the things that we do have, even in times of loss. While it may seem unnatural, do your best to feel grateful for all that is still good in your life.
Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean that you need to entirely move on from your grief. Rather, you should seek to find positivity where you can and when possible.
Ways to Make the Most of the Neuroscience of Gratitude
Recognizing the neuroscience of gratitude and actively taking steps to practice it, whether it be every day, or only once in a while, can help significantly in the long run.
Gratitude can help when taking steps towards living a happier life, while also helping to manage things such as anxiety and grief.
It’s important to incorporate the practice of gratitude into our everyday lives. Here are some ways to make the most of the neuroscience of gratitude, both big and small.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Keeping a gratitude journal is the perfect way to hold yourself accountable for practicing gratitude.
Whether it’s a journal specifically designed for recording gratitude, or a simple piece of paper, recording your thoughts can help you to express all that you are grateful for.
Keep your journal visible so that you are reminded to use it regularly. Try to develop a consistent schedule for writing – even if it is only a few minutes a day. Always be intentional with your gratitude journal and continuously think about what you are hoping to gain from it.
(Don’t miss even more tips for keeping a gratitude journal in this post!)
Make an Effort to Make Others Feel Good
It could be writing a positive review for a business, or complimenting someone. Whatever your tactic may be, making others feel good is a fantastic way to express gratitude.
Your actions will not only make them feel good, but they will make you feel good as well. Spreading positivity is a sure way to express yourself and increase happiness for everyone.
Take Time for Reflection
Whether it’s right when you wake up, or right before you go to sleep at night, make sure that you set aside time to reflect and think about something or someone you’re thankful for.
Consider something you’re thankful for when it comes to work, family, or friends. It could even simply be your ability to breathe and move.
Keep a gratitude list of these things that you can use to reflect on when times become difficult or when you need the motivation to put yourself in a more positive mood.
Use Relaxation Techniques and Technology
One of the most innovative ways to help yourself relax and set aside time to practice gratitude is with Neuvana’s Xen headphones. As a wellness product, it's designed to help improve focus, boost your mood, and reduce stress.
A calming electrical signal via patented earbuds targets a branch of the vagus nerve in the ear, bringing you balance and relaxation. When you enter into this state, you’re better equipped to focus on expressions of gratitude.
Utilize Your Phone for Gratitude
Surprisingly, your phone is a great tool for practicing gratitude in your day to day life.
Set a reminder for yourself at a certain time of day. Use this time to take a minute to think about what you’re most grateful for.
You can also use social media to post about what you’re grateful for and spread positivity.
There are also many gratitude apps which can be great for recording your gratitude list or creating collages with pictures of the people, places, and things you’re most grateful for.
Using the Neuroscience of Gratitude to Create a Happier Life
Finding ways to express gratitude is undoubtedly important, but not every way is going to work for everyone. Take the time to figure out which form of gratitude expression fits best with your lifestyle and your needs. Then, make the effort to make it a part of your life.
If you’re interested in trying out Xen by Neuvana as a part of your practice, you can explore the entire collection here. You can also discover more about what it feels like to use Xen headphones with the Xen by Neuvana technology on our FAQ page.
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