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The Science of Gratitude: How Thankfulness Can Change Your Brain and Life


Have you ever stopped to think about the power of saying "thank you"? Gratitude is more than just good manners. It's a science! Explore the fascinating world of gratitude and how it can affect your brain and life.

So what is gratitude?

Gratitude is that feeling of thankfulness and appreciation for the good things in our lives. Recognizing when something good is happening can have a measurable impact on our brains when we articulate it to ourselves or others. Let's learn how gratitude works on our brains when we say, "I'm thankful for this."

The Science Behind Gratitude:

The Brain's Reward System:

When you feel grateful, your brain releases special chemicals called dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine and serotonin are like happiness boosters. They make you feel good which reinforces the behavior that led to your gratitude. So, the more you appreciate things, the more your brain rewards you with happiness.

Stress Reduction:

Studies have shown that practicing gratitude can lower your stress levels. When you focus on the positive things in your life, your brain switches from stress mode to happiness mode. This helps you feel calmer and less anxious.

Better Relationships:

Gratitude isn't just about you; it's also about how you interact with others. When you express gratitude to people, it makes them feel valued and appreciated. This strengthens your relationships and makes them even better.

Improved Sleep:

If you want to sleep better, try being thankful! Expressing gratitude before bedtime can shift your mind away from worries to focus on the good things you have in your life. Shutting down the worry-machine can help you fall asleep faster and enjoy a more peaceful night's rest.

Putting the Science into Practice:

Now that you know how amazing gratitude can be, here are some simple ways to practice gratitude in your daily life:

  • Keep a Gratitude Journal: Write down three things you're thankful for every day. It could be your family, your pet, a tasty meal, or a fun adventure.
  • Say "Thank You" Often: Don't forget to look for opportunities to express your thanks to others when they help you or make you happy.
  • Share Compliments: Tell your friends and family what you admire or appreciate about them. Compliments are like spreading grateful smiles!
  • Set a Reminder to Pay Attention to the Present: Try setting an alarm as a reminder to pause, breathe deeply, and notice the small joys of life, like a beautiful sunset or a tasty treat.
  • Check out this article on the Colorado State University Extension Live Smart Colorado blog with more tips on planting seeds of joy with simple gratitude activities you can do throughout your day.

The research on gratitude demonstrates how being thankful can change our brains and lives for the better. It's like a superpower that makes you happier, less stressed, and more connected to the people around you. So maybe throughout this holiday season, try experimenting with the practice of gratitude and see if you notice any changes.

Originally published on CSU Extension Live Smart Colorado blog, 11/21/23.

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