November is upon us, and so is the season of gratitude as we march towards Thanksgiving. The holidays are likely going to look vastly different this year than they have in years past, and it may feel like you have to dig deep to find some gratitude for the strange, chaotic, and difficult year 2020 has been. No matter if you’re expressing gratitude for the big things in your life or the small ones, cultivating a gratitude practice has tons of benefits to our mental health. Read on to learn more about these benefits and how to begin to bring some gratitude into your daily life all year-round.
Changing Your Brain
Thanks to the neurobiological concept called neuroplasticity, science has shown that what we think and do can literally change our brains. That’s right – and gratitude is no exception to this! Experiencing gratitude regulates our stress hormones and nervous system, decreasing the size of our amygdalae, responsible for the anxiety and fear response beginning in our brains. Moments of experiencing gratitude release serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters associated with happiness and pleasure. Additionally, spending time thinking about things you are grateful for builds new, positive neural connections in the brain that can lead to cognitive restructuring and increase your ability to think positively and practice gratitude in the future.
Individuals that regularly express gratitude have been shown to have more fulfilling interpersonal relationships. Humans are inherently social, and, oftentimes, the degree to which we are able to connect deeply with others correlates to how happy and fulfilled we feel. Gratitude boosts our capacity for empathy, selflessness, spirituality, optimism, and self-esteem, all of which are puzzle pieces coming together to support our overall happiness. Because gratitude can help decrease the stress hormones in our systems, anxiety and depression symptoms can be decreased by implementing gratitude. In fact, gratitude has been found to help us more effectively deal with difficult emotions such as guilt, shame, and violence.
More Wins for Gratitude
Need more reasons for cultivating some gratitude in your life? How about better quality of sleep, decreased pain symptoms, releasing toxic emotions, improved resilience, and improved overall physical health – pretty powerful!
Tips on Implementing Gratitude
You can reap the benefits of gratitude whether you express your gratitude outwardly or inwardly, though sharing your gratitude with others may foster deeper interpersonal connections and provide an extra mental health boost. Check out these easy ways to begin cultivating gratitude this month:
- Write a gratitude letter – choose someone in your life you are deeply grateful for and write them a letter that illustrates the impact they have had on you. Bonus boost if you share this letter with the recipient!
- Begin a gratitude journal – starting a gratitude journal is a quick way to implement a gratitude practice into your daily life. Challenge yourself to choose something new each day.
- Participate in gratitude meditations or mindfulness – taking time to notice the effects expressing gratitude has on your body and mind through meditation and mindfulness can help prolong the positive effects gratitude can have.
- Be patient – yes, gratitude has tons and tons of positive benefits! But, like any other practice or skill, it can take time to truly feel the effects of the work that you put in. Commit to practicing gratitude no matter your mood, hectic schedule, or what life throws at you knowing that you are doing something good for yourself and your mental health in the long run!