As I’ve been continually researching the idea of Reconstruction, one thing I’ve become convinced of is that rewiring our brains is critical to successfully moving from darkness to light in this process.
We’ve already looked at how important it is to admit that we’ve been hurt, and to work on practicing forgiveness for those who have wounded us, but the other essential element for our healing and freedom involves learning to be grateful.
Yes, an attitude of gratitude is key to our Reconstruction process.
As researchers from the University of California at Davis recently discovered, subjects who kept a daily journal of things they were grateful for experienced dramatically better results than those in the study who either kept a journal of negative experiences, or wrote about whatever they wanted. According to the 2015 study, “The gratitude group reported feeling more optimistic and positive about their lives than the other groups. In addition, the gratitude group was more physically active and reported fewer visits to a doctor than those who wrote only about their negative experiences.”
Others who have researched the physical effects of gratitude have discovered even more promising results. For example, those who practice gratitude sleep better, have fewer feelings of anxiety and less depression. Gratitude also corresponds to having more energy, reduced inflammation and less risk of heart failure, even for those who have a family history of heart problems.
This type of research has been especially revealing when it comes to how gratitude impacts our brain. One recent neurological experiment at UCLA used magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activity as participants experienced gratitude. What they found was “increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and medial prefrontal cortex – those areas associated with moral and social cognition, empathy, reward and value judgement.” This led researchers to conclude that gratitude supports a positive attitude towards others and relieves stress in those who practice it.
Gratitude, they found, also activates the hypothalamus in the brain which affects the human metabolism, stress and regulates hormones related to emotional responses, appetite and sleep.
And the impact on the brain was transformative as the study continued to show that:
“The positive influence of gratitude on mental health continues past a particular event if the emotion is relived…subjects who participated in gratitude letter writing showed both behavioral increases in gratitude and significantly greater neural modulation by gratitude in the medial prefrontal cortex three months later.”
Further studies showed that gratitude also impacts:
- Reduced thoughts of suicide
- Brain function on a chemical level
- Feelings of self-worth
- Increased compassion for others
- Improved relationships with others
So, if we really hope to rewire our brains and experience the freedom and joy of spiritual reconstruction, gratitude is a very important place to begin.
Here’s why: Our Deconstruction process has been very focused on what’s wrong with religion and specifically the theological framework we were born into. This is necessary for Deconstruction. We can’t possibly deconstruct our faith and question our theology without this critical questioning and examination of our faith.
But, once we’ve done this, we need to switch gears mentally and shift from being critical and searching for what’s wrong with everything to become more focused on the good things; we need to start looking for what’s right and celebrate whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable— and if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, to think about such things. [See Phil. 4:8]
If we can learn to practice gratitude, we can rewire our brains to see the positive and our entire body – our attitude, our heart, our emotions, our capacity to enjoy life, our sense of freedom, and our physical and emotional health – will improve along with our change in perspective.
So, if you’d like to move into this new, uncharted territory of Reconstruction, I’d suggest keeping a daily journal of thanksgiving. Start writing down everything you’re thankful for and watch how it changes your life.
Another great thing to start doing is to express gratitude to people and crank up the appreciation factor for those people in your life who bless you. Let them know about it. Look them in the eyes and say, “That really blessed me. Thank you so much!”While you’re at it, don’t forget to stop and celebrate your own accomplishments each day. Appreciate yourself. Be grateful for your successes in life. Take note of them. Write them down.
One other great idea is to start keeping a “Jar of Remembrance.” Our family has been doing this for about 5 years now. Every time something great happens in our life, we write it down on a slip of paper, date it, fold it up and place it into a small glass jar. At the end of the year, we sit down at the table together and celebrate New Year’s Eve by taking turns opening up those slips of paper and reading out loud to one another the blessings we’ve experienced over the last year. When we’re all done, we place those slips of paper in an envelope, write the year on it, and seal it up. Then we’re ready to start all over again on January 1 with an empty jar just waiting to fill up with blessings again.
A few years ago, our house church family really started to get excited about practicing gratitude and one of our dear sisters in the group decided to take it to an entirely different level.
Here’s what she did:
If you can think of any other ways to be thankful, go for it! It really does help to rewire your brain for more positive experiences and it improves your outlook on life, setting you up for a more successful Reconstruction process.
Are you ready to start being more grateful?
NOTE: This is your final week to sign up for our 90 Day Journey from Deconstruction to Reconstruction over at Square 1. We start Monday, Sept. 30. A few half-price seats are still available if you act quickly, right HERE.
Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today, He and his wife are returning to El Paso, TX after 25 years, as part of their next adventure.