In his book The Upward Spiral, neuroscientist Alex Korb demystifies the neurological processes in the brain that causes depression and offers effective ways to get better―one little step at a time. One of the most important steps to improve our state of mind is by feeling grateful.
Gratitude is a skill that can be cultivated with some effort on our part. It means becoming mindful of our blessings.
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Benefits of Gratitude
Developing feelings of gratitude causes brain changes. Feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces the neurotransmitter dopamine that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. It also boosts serotonin, the feel-good chemical. Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life.
Bessel Van der Kolk, the author of the book The Body Keeps The Score, explains how gratitude heals trauma by changing perceptions and improving our feelings of safety. The vagus nerve, the most important nerve in our body is activated by acts of compassion and gratitude. It is responsible for feelings of calm, peace and relaxation throughout the body and is a major brake on inflammation in the body.
Studies have shown that gratitude improves the functioning immune systems, lowering blood pressure and improving sleep. Psychological benefits of gratitude include more happiness, joy, and pleasure as well as increased alertness. People who are grateful also have less of negative emotions — resentment, envy, and regret.
Hunt the Good Stuff
One of the first Resiliency skills of the U.S. Army’s Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness, or CSF2 program, is gratitude. Hunt the Good Stuff as it is called. It counters negative bias, to create positive emotion, and to notice and analyze what is good. Recording three good things each day and writing a reflection next to each positive event about one or more of the following topics:
- Why this good thing happened
- What this good thing means to you
- What you can do tomorrow to enable more of this good thing
- What ways you or others contribute to this good thing
Alternately, one can keep a gratitude journal, write a gratitude letter or a say a simple thank-you to our friends and family.
Remember to say thank you-TED Talk by Laura Trice
It is not easy to feel grateful in the face of problems and trials. But we need to make an effort to find something that is good in our lives. Our health, our family. the food and shelter we have. Renowned cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg says “Cultivate gratitude as if it is the first day and the last of your life. Begin by opening your eyes…”