Retrain Your Brain: Your Brain on Gratitude

Retrain Your Brain: Your Brain on Gratitude

Gratitude became a huge part of my life a few years ago after reading many Wayne Dyer BooksI had also read another book all about the dramatic changes that a man experienced after taking the time to write thank you cards. We’re talking, he was a broken man, barely keeping his head above water. The book is called “A Simple Act of Gratitude”, you can click on the photo for more information.

*The post contains affiliate links. If you choose to make any purchases, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. Everything I recommend I do so because I personally love it and I know you would too.

Like these authors, I too was able to see the incredible impact that gratitude had on my life. Psychology now is really starting to dig deeper into this and it is astounding to hear about what exactly gratitude can do to help improve our brains and our overall way of life.

A study was done by Indiana University where 43 people suffering with anxiety and depression were used. Half of these people were instructed to write thank you letters of gratitude to people in their lives who had helped them or done something for them. After checking back in 2 weeks later brain scans still showed a heightened activity of gratitude. Even more surprising, that activity was still present 3 months later.

How does that work?

gratitude retrain your brain benefits of gratitude thankful thank you notes reduce stress reduce anxiety reduce depressionWhy is this? Well, gratitude in our brains responds in a similar way to sex and chocolate. Expressing gratitude releases the same chemicals in our brains that make us happy. The one big difference I see with gratitude when compared to sex and chocolate is that there is no way gratitude can cause us damage. Most of us know that too much chocolate can leave us 10 pounds heavier (cough, Halloween candy, cough) which may increase depression and leave us feeling down in the dumps. Sex is no different. Yes, sex in a committed relationship is rewarding and amazing and something to give gratitude for. However, so many people use sex as a temporary band aid that will eventually leave them still feeling wounded and broken. Gratitude is lasting and will never leave you regretting your choice.

Practicing gratitude can also lead to a decrease in depression and anxiety. In fact, you become more resistant to stress in general. You can also fall asleep quicker and have more solid sleep as well. All these things, as we know work hand in hand and can greatly improve the quality of our lives. Depression, stress and lack of sleep are all things that can lead to increased cortisol levels in our bodies (stress hormone.) This additional cortisol can lead to breakouts in our skin as well. Which means, gratitude even has the ability to help keep your skin clean!

So let’s get started!

I have compiled a list of exercises that you can do daily to help boost your brains natural instinct to give gratitude. Taking time each day to do some or all of these exercises will eventually retrain your brain to be more inclined to send out gratitude. When I take more time to start doing these exercises, some days I swear it’s like sunshine is coming out of my bum. It’s fantastic.

  • “I’m glad I’m not.”

This idea was introduced to me when I was reading a book about the Dalai Lama. I will link to this particular book called The Art of Happiness at the end of the post. In this book another study is discussed that took place at the University of New Your Buffalo. This group was asked to complete the sentence “I’m glad I’m not a. . .” After 5 times of this exercise the people involved felt a heightened sense of life satisfaction.  

A separate group was asked to finish this sentence: “I wish I were a. . .” After this experiment, the participants felt less satisfied with their lives.

So often we spend our days observing all the things that other people have that we hope to have some day or hope to be someday. Taking time each day to be thankful for what you don’t have (poverty, starvation, lack of water) can help rewire your brain so that you are grateful for your current situation.

  • Thank You Cards

    thank you gratitude kindness retrain your brain brain on joy thankfulness be thankful

Thank you cards are a lost “art” in this day and age. I myself don’t send them nearly as much as I used to. However, a few years ago (when I really started appreciating gratitude) I sent out thank you cards in place of Holiday cards. I thanked everyone for any thing big or small that they had done for our family that year. It felt amazing. Normally I stress about the high cost of sending holiday cards. It has always seemed wasteful to me. Sending personalized thank you cards on the other hand, the cost wasn’t of any concern. I wanted all our loved ones to know how grateful we were for them instead of just sending a perfectly Photoshopped photo of us.

Writing thank you cards can be something you do every day, once a week, once a month. It doesn’t matter. If your spouse does the dishes for you after a long day, write them a thank you card. I know it may feel silly, but it’s good for them to know you took the time to really appreciate what they did. Recently, my best friend gave birth to her 4th child. Excuse me, her 4th BOY! Yikes! She teared up when she told me that in the hospital, before taking their other kids home from a visit, her husband left her a thank you note. He thanked her for making his family complete and told her how happy he was that they accomplished all they had set out to. This is a card I know she will cherish forever. True childbirth is bigger than doing the dishes, but because he took the time to personally write out a thank you card to her, it showed her that much more how much he valued her and all she had done for him.

  • Give Happily

The Bible tells us to give with a happy heart. Sometimes people give out of a feeling of obligation. Trying to convince yourself you’re a generous person when really inside you feel anger or resentment is a battle you ultimately lose.

You might not have a ton of money piled up in the bank waiting to be given away. Just the idea of it can sound stressful. In cases like this, start small. What can you give. Gently used clothing? Your time? A homemade meal? When you see or hear of a person who really needs their spirits raised, take a moment to think of something you can do to help, even if it’s not financially.

throw-kindness-around-like-confetti_page-bannerHere in Minnesota, one of our local radio stations promotes something called “The Drive Thru Difference.” It’s simply paying for the coffee or meal of the person behind you in line at a drive thru. Our family loves doing this. There is no awkward confrontation where the person you give to praises you for your selflessness. No one can turn down your gift. Plus, it kind of makes you feel like a sneaky spy that goes around just blessing people. For the rest of that persons day they will tell people what you did. The mystery of having no idea who you are or why a stranger would be so gracious will be on their mind and it will lift their spirits knowing a stranger cares about them, even just a little bit.

The best part of giving generously is that the person on the receiving end will tell others. Whether you do it anonymously or not, they will share the joy that they feel because of your gratitude. So here’s where it gets really awesome. Studies show that an act of kindness and generosity raises serotonin levels. Serotonin being our “happy hormone.” Levels of serotonin rise in the person who receives the gift, in the person giving the gift and any person who sees the generosity taking place. This means that giving happily can literally spread joy all around.

  • Be grateful 3 times each day

This one is probably the easiest one to get yourself started. Before you get out of bed in the morning, take a moment to think of three things to be grateful for. Make a habit of this, do it every day. We do this with our kids as a form of “prayer.” Before we eat together we each think of one thing to say thank you for.

We are surrounded each day by things that we should be expressing gratitude for. Making it a part of your daily ritual will slowly help to create a habit of it in your life. Creating this habit will help rewire your brain to be more grateful all the time. Gratitude can truly transform your life and it is as easy as making these small, gradual changes.

Good Reading Materials

Here are some of my top recommended books that teach on gratitude and the influences it can have in your day to day life. I have read all of these and highly recommend them.

*The post contains affiliate links. If you choose to make any purchases, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. Everything I recommend I do so because I personally love it and I know you would too.

Heart Soul and Whole Food




  1. | 11th Jun 17

    speaking of gratitude Renee, thanks for this article! you gave me a really good tip on a question I’ve had lately. So many fundraisers that need donations for great reasons -but of late low cash flow makes it harder. I will consider the source of the pleas for help and try to think of a way I can help other than cash donations. I know that cash is usually what is needed most in certain circumstances but coming up with helpful alternatives allows me to spend some creative and positive energy on the tough times others are having… I think you’ve done well with your blog – it’s an inspiration! 🙂

    • | 11th Jun 17

      Thank you so much. I’m glad I could help out. It can be such a pit in your stomach type feeling when you so badly want to financially help but can’t. We each have gifts and talent that we can put to good use and when the money is right, then you will be able to give happily!

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