Can a Gratitude Practice Really Make You Happier?

“Gratitude is a powerful process for shifting your energy and bringing more of what you want into your life. Be grateful for what you already have and you will attract more good things.” – Rhonda Byrne, Author of The Secret

It seems like everyone from Oprah to Brene Brown is talking about the power of gratitude to change our lives. Leaders in self help and personal development communities all over the world encourage others to make daily gratitude lists, to start each morning off writing in a gratitude journal, or simply to bring more gratitude to any given moment.

Does this practice have any merit, or is it just another feel good solution with no truly lasting results? In the past two decades, neuroscientists and psychologists alike have turned their research and attention to this question.

Gratitude Stimulates the Brain to “Feel Good”

When we practice gratitude, we send a signal to our brain to release dopamine and serotonin. Both of these neurotransmitters help us feel a more positive affect. We may feel increased sociability, a more positive self-image or esteem, and more present and engaged in our activities. The more gratitude we practice, the more we build up our “feel good” neurocircuitry.

You may look around your life at your job, your family, your friends and where you live and know that you are grateful for them. But that’s different that flexing the gratitude muscle in your brain that literally wires you for a happier life. So how do you consciously and actively bring more of this state into your life?

1. Keep a Daily Gratitude Journal

Many experts suggest writing everything you are grateful for in a journal while enjoying your morning coffee or tea, or right after you meditate. You can set a timer for 10 minutes and keep moving that pen across the paper until the timer goes off. It’s best to write by hand with a journal and not use a computer or phone for this, because handwriting increases neural activity in the brain much in the same way that meditation does. Screen time decreases our feel good chemicals (like dopamine) while writing increases them.

2. Pause and Reflect on Gratitude During Challenging Times

We all have challenging times, that’s just part of life. Many of us have been taught to celebrate our victories or wins so we can create more of them… but what about celebrating our perceived challenges or setbacks? When we’re able to pause from the emotional and mental activity of “reacting” to challenge and reflect on what we’re grateful for in that moment, we are able to build resilience and bring more of our authentic presence to that moment. Whether we’re frustrated by a simple challenge like being stuck in traffic, or we’re enduring a more painful loss or separation, taking a moment to focus our attention on what is working helps us move through the challenge with more grace.

3. Create a Gratitude Ritual

I used to work for a company that practiced a gratitude ritual in every Monday morning meeting. Instead of starting the week off frustrated that it was Monday and focusing on all the endless tasks and to-dos, we would each take a moment and reflect on something we were grateful for.

By the end of the short sharing, the mood of each person on the team was lifted, and the sense of team unity was strengthened. You can create a gratitude ritual involving writing, sharing, or doing a shared activity with your family, friends or yourself!

Maybe you’ve heard that it takes about 66 days to create a new habit? It may sound like a lot, but try out your new gratitude practice for 66 days and see how your life changes, seemingly without anything drastic changing on the outside! If you like accountability see if a friend will try this out with you. Then compare notes when you’ve made it through the entire time-frame.

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