It may be hard to believe, but the end of the year is upon us. During this time, many of us might reflect on the year and tally up the good and the bad, the pros and the cons of the past 12 months. In a society that focuses on success and getting ahead, probably the most common thing to do is zero in on what you didn’t accomplish, or what went wrong. But science tells us that if you’re smart, you’ll look back with gratitude. And the best news is: it’s good for our health.
Gratitude Changes Your Brain – For the Better
When you give thanks for positive things in your life and show appreciation, it literally changes the structure of your brain, according to UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. It keeps the gray matter functioning and causes synchronized activation in multiple brain regions, lighting up parts of the brain’s reward pathways and the hypothalamus. It’s kind of like an anti-depressant: it boosts neurotransmitter serotonin and causes the brain stem to produce dopamine, a chemical that mediates pleasure in the brain. In short, thinking about what you’re grateful for is kind of like free therapy.
Make a List of Your Successes
So now that you know how gratitude works, make a list of what you’ve accomplished this year. It doesn’t have to be big and dramatic; for instance: you ate at home more often. You decided to recycle. You drank more water. However, if you got a promotion and raise, by all means write it down and feel good about it. Besides, there’s more that happens: when you’re feeling grateful, you generate higher levels of activity in your hypothalamus, the area which controls a large array of essential body functions, like eating, drinking and sleeping. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), this activity prompts you to exercise more, get better sleep and, best of all, decreases depression and bodily aches and pains. How’s that for some motivation to put pen to paper?
Keep a Journal for Next Year
As you can see, being grateful is beneficial, both mentally and physically. So why not keep a journal for the upcoming year? It doesn’t have to be fancy. Granted, a journal helps organize your thoughts and can be your go-to source should you start feeling down. But practicing gratitude can be as simple as jotting down your thoughts on a sticky note and posting it on your mirror. Another way to do this is to pick a gratitude buddy. When you think of something you’re thankful for, text or email a friend. Don’t worry about it sounding right, just do it! Chances are, it’ll not only make you feel better, it might brighten your friend’s day, too.
Just Look for Positive Things
According to Dr. Alex Korb in his book “Upward Spiral,” the simple act of seeking things to be grateful for has as much if not more benefit than the things you are actually grateful for. Korb says that the search “forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.” This area of the brain not only regulates blood pressure and heart rate, it’s also responsible for decision making and evaluation processes. Serotonin is good stuff: it’s known as the happy chemical. See how good this gratitude thing is?
So, in the coming year, if you start feeling blue and negative, here are some quick remedies:
- Look in the mirror and name five things you like about yourself.
- Write someone a thank you note.
- When something bad happens, think of something good that’s happened.
- Give someone a compliment. The act of giving is soul-nourishing: to give is to receive.
Here’s to looking back and feeling good, then moving forward with positive vibes!