At some point in our lives, most of us have been told to “count our blessings” or “focus on the positive.” While these age-old adages may seem clichéd, the act of expressing gratitude has profound implications for our brain and overall well-being. Scientific studies have consistently shown that feeling and expressing gratitude can lead to changes in the brain, affecting mood, decision-making, and even one’s outlook on life.
The Neuroscience Of Gratitude
The human brain is a complex organ, with various regions responsible for different functions. When it comes to gratitude, the anterior cingulate cortex and medial prefrontal cortex play vital roles. These areas are associated with understanding others’ perspectives, empathy, and feelings of relief (1).
One study found that when individuals feel gratitude, there’s a surge in activity in the hypothalamus, the brain region that controls several essential bodily functions, including eating, drinking, and sleeping (2). It also affects dopamine levels, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. When dopamine levels rise, we are more likely to do the action that caused the surge again, suggesting that being grateful and the act of expressing gratitude can lead to a self-sustaining cycle of positivity (3).
Cognitive Benefits And Beyond
Gratitude doesn’t just activate the brain’s reward centers. It also plays a role in our cognitive functions:
1. Stress Reduction
Gratitude can help in reducing the symptoms and effects of stress (4). L-tyrosine, an amino acid, plays a vital role in the production of dopamine (5). Increased dopamine can counteract the harmful effects of stress, potentially offering protective properties for our brains (6). L-tyrosine can be found naturally in foods and certain high-quality brain supplements.
2. Improved Sleep
3. Enhanced Resilience
Gratitude has been linked to a heightened ability to overcome trauma (8).
Recognizing and focusing on positive aspects, even during difficult times, can create a buffer against negative feelings and improve coping skills.
A Personal Note On Gratitude
While the scientific exploration of gratitude is fascinating, we can’t overlook its subjective, deeply personal nature. Sarah, a teacher from Chicago, shared her gratitude journey with us: “A few years ago, I started a simple gratitude journal. Every night, I would write down three things I was thankful for. Over time, I noticed that I started to feel happier, lighter, even on rough days. And while I can’t claim to know the exact neuroscience behind it, I can attest to its powerful impact on my well-being.”
Incorporating Gratitude Into Your Life
For those interested in enhancing brain health and optimizing cognitive functions, incorporating gratitude practices can be an effective strategy. Simple acts, like maintaining a gratitude journal or mentally acknowledging what you’re thankful for daily, can go a long way.
Moreover, understanding the ingredients that can support and boost cognitive function is beneficial. For instance, Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) has been historically known for its cognitive-enhancing properties, and modern research backs its effects on improving memory and attention (9). The combination of gratitude practice, a healthy lifestyle, and, when needed, supplementation can create a holistic approach to brain health.
Change Your Brain With Gratitude
Gratitude, with its deep-rooted connections to our brain, serves as a reminder of the intrinsic ties between our emotions, thoughts, and physical health. As science delves deeper into this relationship, one thing becomes abundantly clear: Taking a moment to appreciate the positives, no matter how small, can have a transformative impact on our lives.