• Charlie Bird

Utilize Your Nervous System - Gratitude and Reward Pathways

What is gratitude? According to the neurology experts at Harvard Medical School, gratitude can be defined as “a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible.” Theological and spiritual circles have been touting the soulful benefits of gratitude as a fundamental of health for some time. So, in this blog, we will dive into the neuroscience behind this phenomena, and techniques to implement gratitude.

The Brain’s Reward Centers and Gratitude

Neuroscientists are of the opinion that gratitude can be a driving force behind the simultaneous stimulation of a number of reward centers of the human brain. The reward pathways of our brain consist of neurons that shower our central nervous system with the “feel-good” chemical messengers such as serotonin and dopamine.

These neurohormones are exceptionally important for instigating pleasant thoughts and feelings in our minds and bodies. With a healthy regulation of these hormones, you can have an energetic influx of “positive vibes”, which can promote healthy changes in daily mood. Research studies have also depicted that engaging in gratitude activities such as writing appreciation letters can boost your mental health immensely. Similarly, gratitude not only plays a key role in our battle against anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder but also substantially improves our sleep quality.

What does this mean for you?

Equipped with the notion that gratitude can help you chemically activate reward pathways of the central nervous system, all you need to do is to practice a handful of healthy, gratitude-focused activities. These simple practices, backed by scientific reasoning, will improve your cognitive disarray and re-wire the reward pathways of your central nervous system.

  1. Keep a personal journal for writing your daily experiences, where you can express gratitude for your success no matter how insignificant it is. There may not be many moments in your journal that you are grateful for, at the start. It is important to find at least one single thing every day that could potentially make you grateful. Perhaps something has happened that you know should likely make you grateful, write it down anyway.

  2. Always end a conversation with “thank you.” Let the other person know that you are grateful for them. Not only will this help your own mental clarity, but it will likely spread your attitude amongst your community, which will then come cyclically back to you. But, that’s just a bonus!

  3. Reserve time to spend with your family members, dearest friends, or cherished relatives. Stay close to those who make you feel accepted and welcome. Be grateful for these moments and these people in your life.

  4. Incorporate gratitude into regular/consistent meditation. Close your eyes and focus on all the things you are grateful for. The food on your table, the pillow on your bed, the shoes and your feet, the warmth in the air, or a cool breeze in the sun. Be grateful for whatever you can find.

  5. Before you doze off at night, do not forget to be grateful for your countless achievements in life. Not simply the ones that others got to witness, but the ones that only you will know and be proud of. Now that you have started saying “thank you” to people, you can also be grateful each and every time you do it, as you know that it is slowly optimizing your mental health. Be grateful for the ability to show gratitude.

  6. When something unsatisfactory happens, try reshaping your narrative. You are no longer upset. Instead, you are grateful for this moment to resolve or move past the issue smoothly and without agitation.

  7. Make one long, extensive list of every little thing you can be grateful for in your life, adding to it whenever you can. This list should include absolutely anything and everything… from the bounty of air around you available and free to breathe to a pet you are glad to have befriended. Every day, look at this list to remind yourself of these things, and more importantly, to manually regulate your neurohormonal composition.

Armed with this modern knowledge of gratitude, its scientific significance, and some tools to implement gratitude in your own life, you can try recalibrating the chemical cabaret that plays out in your brain and body.

One of our partners, MadeFor, offers a 10-month program that aims to use natural, fundamental health concepts to improve your brain and body feeling/function. Each month has a different theme, which comes in a monthly package with booklets, activities, and tools for that month’s theme. One of the months in the program, among others like sleep and fuel, is gratitude. We highly recommend trying the program. They also offer one-time introduction kits to try out their service. This will start your journey to a better brain-body connection and will give you an idea of what the full program is like.

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