What happens to your brain when you feel grateful

Every night I say a Bahai prayer of gratitude but  admit that during the day, often overcome with Chronic fatigue and Fibromyalgia body aches, I lose sight of what I’m grateful for so this paragraph caught my eye:

“The impact of practicing gratitude on physical health is considerable, according to science. To date we’ve conducted research that has demonstrated the benefits of gratitude for people with inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, and fibromyalgia,” according to Dr. Fuschia Sirois Ph.D. “Even in people with severe illnesses and low levels of social support, practicing gratitude every day lowered their risk of depression up to six months later. Notably, though, the effects were slightly lower in people living with fibromyalgia, which can be a very painful condition. “Living with fibromyalgia may make it more difficult to find things to be grateful for,” Dr. Sirois says. The impacts of gratitude may depend on the challenges in your life.”

Peggy and I were so impressed by the scientific research behind gratitude we included it in our Happiness Hacks.  We explained that in 5 minutes expressing GRATITUDE could tweak our neurobiology to feel better.  I knew the psychological power of gratitude goes beyond psychological self-care; it can physically change our brains.  I just forget to do the very exercises we share.

“The concept of gratitude — of feeling thankful for what you have — is a very powerful one. Scientists have explored feeling grateful in detail in the past few decades, and research has found that feeling and expressing our gratitude towards others can have tangible positive effects on our physical health and psychological wellbeing.  the science of gratitude says that if you practice gratitude year-round and make it a constant part of your outlook, you may glean a host of good effects:”

  • Shift attention to the positive when dealing with negative and stressful situations.
  • Spend less time focusing on your difficulties.
  • Look at the big picture, helps to contextualize problems and give a fresh perspective. A stressed brain looks at things through a narrow perspective, because its threat centers are activated.
  • Understand a broader perspective, which may help with problem-solving.

“The science of gratitude is part of a body of research known as positive psychology, which studies how certain approaches to life can affect our wellbeing. Positive psychology researchers have demonstrated that the health effects of gratitude are not to be underestimated. Studies have shown that practicing gratitude in tangible ways — by writing in a journal every day about something you’re grateful for, for instance — can reduce symptoms of depression, improve health in heart failure patients, and help people in stressful jobs sleep and eat better.”

 To start practicing gratitude, take small steps like the “Three Good Things” activity: Every night  write down three things you are grateful for and/or good things that happened during the day. It doesn’t take much time, and research shows you may start to see positive effects over the weeks to come.

“Gratitude may help us to feel better because it bonds us with others and helps us look after ourselves. An overview of studies on gratitude in 2010 found that it’s been shown to improve interpersonal relationships, trust and emotional support. Research published in Personality & Individual Differences in 2013 also showed that gratitude may have positive health effects indirectly because it motivates us to seek out self-care behaviors, like exercising, eating nutrient-dense foods, and going to the doctor when we’re sick.”

“Science shows that there isn’t a single gratitude center in the brain, but it can have a significant effect on brain activity. A study published in Neuroimage in 2016 found that practicing gratitude for three months physically changed brain activity. The participants in the study wrote letters expressing their gratitude, and three months later they showed “significantly greater and lasting neural sensitivity to gratitude”, according to the study.  In other words, they experienced more feelings of gratitude in general, and their brains also showed a lot more activity whenever they expressed gratitude, particularly in the medial prefrontal cortex. That brain region is associated with decision-making and learning. Research in Frontiers in Psychology in 2015 also showed that gratitude causes activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, which helps us regulate our emotions.”


However, gratitude can’t change everything. “It isn’t a magic bullet,” and it can be a hard habit to cultivate, particularly if you have a serious health condition, or are experiencing severe stress. When things are simply too difficult, the pressure of gratitude can feel like another source of stress, so it’s important to be patient with yourself (judy says as a reminder to herself!).

Here’s my THREE GOOD THINGS for today:

  • I am grateful that MAXyourMIND reminds me to pay better attention to what I know and learn new ways of feeling and being better.
  • I am grateful to have Peggy, whose brain is naturally positive and grateful, as a co-blogger.
  • I am grateful all of you subscribe to our blogs which keeps Peggy and I blogging and learning.



One comment on “What happens to your brain when you feel grateful

  1. I’m grateful for your insightful posts and I always learn something that is beneficial to me and my family. I think I’ll start writing down three things that I’m grateful for every night (at least I’ll try, I have to be honest). Maybe I should post it on a weekly basis. Thanks Judith.


THANK YOU for sharing your thoughts! or Click LIKE to let us know you visited.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.