Challenging yourself to be grateful every day is an excellent way to improve your physical and emotional health. Many clients don’t believe me when I tell them this, but simply finding something to be grateful for can alter your brain chemistry in positive ways. During family, couples, and individual counseling sessions, I often help people develop a strategy to incorporate daily gratitudes into their routines as part of their counseling strategy. In this blog, I discuss the benefits of challenging yourself to find opportunities to be grateful every day as well as some basic strategies to build daily gratitudes into your busy schedule.
Change Your Thinking
Perhaps the most significant benefit of thankfulness, it actually changes your brain for the better. Really. It’s science! The hypothalamus is stimulated when we feel gratitude and show kindness to others. The more often we engage our hypothalamus, the better it functions. The hypothalamus controls multiple bodily activities, including appetite, metabolism, and sleep, so by stimulating the hypothalamus with gratitude, your whole body reaps the benefits. Additionally, when we find ways to express gratitude, the brain’s reward center releases dopamine, which improves mood and general good will. The dopamine release also makes gratitude addictive, meaning the more you try to find things to be grateful for the more you’ll want to seek out gratitude. This change in your brain chemistry is actually the cause of all of the other benefits associated with daily gratitude.
Stress can be thought of as a side effect of modern life. There’s simply too much to do in a day but adding just one more thing – daily gratitudes – can decrease some of this stress.
During moments of increased anxiety, taking time to find something to be grateful for can release dopamine and decrease cortisol production, which reduces anxiety levels.
Expressing gratitude, writing thank you notes, and listing reasons for being grateful have all been shown to increase feelings of happiness and lessen the severity or longevity of periods of depression.
Daily gratitudes are proven to increase the quantity and quality of sleep as well as decreasing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. Controlling sleep is yet another function of the hypothalamus, so making time for gratitude leads to more restorative sleep.
Improved immune function, more restorative sleep, and better emotional health all lead to increased vitality. This means people who are grateful tend to be more resilient, have stronger immune systems, and they may even find the energy to get more done in a day.
It may sound like voodoo or witchcraft but expressing gratitude can actually alleviate physical pain. The stimulus to the hypothalamus and the increased dopamine levels combine to alleviate pain and promote healing.
Okay, You’ve Convinced Me. So, How do I Remember My Daily Gratitude?
Even if you want to make time for more gratitude every day, it can be hard to remember. The good news is, the positive feelings produced by elevated dopamine levels, mean you’ll want to take the time for your daily gratitude, but developing a new a habit can still be a challenge. Some ways to increase the benefits of your daily gratitude (and the chances you’ll remember it) include:
- Reminders – on your phone, on a calendar, on a sticky note. Leave reminders to take time for gratitude wherever it works for you.
- Routine – It can also help to dedicate the same time each day to finding something to feel grateful for. For example, you can list the things you’re grateful for from the day as you fall asleep, while you brush your teeth, or in the shower.
- Write it down – by writing down what you’re grateful for each day, your brain will process and store the information in a different way than if you just think about, and you’ll have documentation to remind yourself of past gratitudes on days when you struggle to uncover new ones.
- Exchange gratitudes – another way to remember your daily gratitude is to challenge yourself to express the gratitude to at least one other person. In addition to giving yourself the dopamine boost, you also give someone else the gift of feeling appreciated.
- Leave encouragement notes – are there specific times of the day or tasks that seem to bring out the worst in you? Leave yourself notes of encouragement, so you remember to find reasons to be grateful even at the most frustrating, stressful, or exhausting moments of the day.
Partner with the Central Arkansas Group Counseling Team
At Central Arkansas Group Counseling, I work with people to become the healthiest versions of themselves, and for many, this includes making more time to find things to be grateful for and taking opportunities to express their gratitude. If you’re ready to start making positive changes in your life, reach out to me or any of my colleagues in Benton or North Little Rock. We’re here to help.