Today on a walk, I remind one daughter about the power of gratitude to change the brain. I’ve read the research on how gratitude alters the brain function of depressed people, so it’s not a silly or meaningless activity to think about or record what we’re grateful for each day. We begin by listing five things going well in the day and five things that bring us happiness. With so much disappointment, fear, confusion, and loss with COVID-19, it’s easy and natural to lapse into days of complaining, sadness, or even hopelessness. It’s the default state for so many of us.
But we can change the circuitry of the brain and usher in more joyful experiences when we practice gratitude. I’ve heard some researchers call gratitude the “natural antidepressant” because as you engage in gratitude, your brain releases both dopamine and serotonin. Each time we’re grateful, we strengthen these neural pathways so it’s easier to feel happy.
If you’re wondering what exactly constitutes gratitude, here’s one way to think of it according to Harvard Medical School. They write that gratitude is “a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives … As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals–whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.”
So let’s acknowledge all the goodness we can.