The Surprising Power of Gratitude

The Surprising Power of Gratitude November 19, 2022

There’s something really beautiful about coming together to celebrate “Thanksgiving” isn’t there?

The very act of pausing and taking time to stop and take stock of all the wonderful things there are to be thankful for can truly and profoundly change our perspective.

But, did you know that being grateful can not only lift your spirits and give you the “warm fuzzies”, it can actually re-wire your brain?

IT’S TRUE!

Our brains have a wonderful plasticity, and this means we can actually hack our brains and re-learn new ways of thinking that allow us to let go of the endless toxicity and turn the corner into a more positive experience of life that actually changes us from the inside out.

You may not realize it, but one of the best ways to do this is to practice gratitude. Yes, gratitude, it turns out, is an excellent hack for transforming your life.

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.”

Because of this, researchers have concluded 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 experience the freedom and joy we want in our lives, then rewiring our brains through gratitude is a very important thing for us to practice…wouldn’t you agree?

This means we need to switch gears mentally and shift from being critical and always searching for what’s wrong to becoming 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 an annual “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 decided to do, in her own words:

“In my prayers, the word ‘gratitude’ has kept coming up and I felt the Lord nudging me to take it more seriously and put it into a concrete discipline. Basically all I’m doing is recording something I’m thankful for every hour. It may seem silly and at times the thing I write down are kinda silly but it’s actually become something that I look forward to every new hour and a really good reminder of God’s relentless love and provision.

Here’s yesterday’s list:

  • 5am – a place to call home
  • 6am – family to drink coffee with
  • 7am – transportation through the sky
  • 8am – best friends
  • 9am – unique personalities
  • 10am – the privilege of worshipping
  • 11am – languages of all kinds
  • 12pm – the opportunity to travel
  • 1pm – deep relationships
  • 2pm – rain!!
  • 3pm – food on the table
  • 4pm – protection from the weather
  • 5pm – a job where I can love people
  • 6pm – chocolate covered items
  • 7pm – good and Godly mentors
  • 8pm – human diversity
  • 9pm – good tunes
  • 10pm – time to rest

 If any of you wanna join me in this, I think it’d be fun to do together.”

 

How awesome is that? Imagine being thankful every single hour of the day!

Gratitude 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 deconstruction process.

To put all of this to the test, I’ve incorporated this gratitude exercise into my 90-day Square 1 course for people who are deconstructing their faith. For an entire week, everyone is encouraged to spend the day practicing some form of gratitude like writing a letter to someone they’re grateful for, setting an hourly alarm to keep a list like the one above, calling someone on the phone to express gratitude, or other methods such as these.

The results? Better than we could have imagined. Everyone who took the time to practice gratitude on a daily basis for 7 days in a row experienced freedom from negative thoughts, greater joy, increased happiness and even a more positive attitude about bad things that happened to them during the week.

So, our brains either help us or hurt us. If we hang on to old ways of thinking, it can hold us back from real growth. If we allow ourselves to be trapped in an endless toxic feedback loop, we’ll find ourselves experiencing unhealthy stress and anxiety that can lead to serious health problems. But, if we can rewire our brains to celebrate all the good things around us, we’ll discover an ability to experience joy and to thrive in ways we never thought possible.

SO…now that you know how powerful being grateful and thankful really is, let me encourage you to find more time in your day to practice this. Start writing down things you’re grateful for. Start taking the time to say “Thank you” and “I appreciate you” to the people in your life who bless you. Start keeping a Jar of Remembrance to open with your family every New Years Eve to remind yourselves of all of the beautiful ways that God has smiled on you, and blessed you, and enriched your life.

Gratitude is powerful. It can change our attitude. It can rewire our brains. It can improve our emotional, mental and spiritual health. It can even change our world, one person at a time, as we become transformed by the simple act of being grateful for the gift of being alive.

So, let met be the first to say “THANK YOU” to everyone who reads this blog, or who supports me on Patreon, or who reads my books, or follows me on Facebook, or Instagram, or Twitter [for as long as it lasts anyway].

I really do appreciate each and every one of you. My life is so much better because of people like you who read my stuff and who let me know how much it means to you when or if it touches you.

Thank you also for listening to my podcasts – Heretic Happy Hour, Apostates Anonymous and Second Cup with Keith.

My wife, Wendy, and I have a saying about how we are rich in all the things that matter – family, friends, etc. – and even more that doesn’t matter.

Thank you so much for your support. I am forever grateful.

Peace

Keith

**

Keith Giles is the best-selling author of the Jesus Un series. He has appeared on CNN, USA Today, BuzzFeed, and John Fugelsang’s “Tell Me Everything.” His latest book, SOLA MYSTERIUM: Celebrating the Beautiful Uncertainty of Everything is available now on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

 

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