how to feel happy instantly. the neuroscience of gratitude.
Do you get swept away thinking about things that happened in the past, all of the things you need to get done, and all of the things you wantto achieve in your life?
And does this constant churning, ruminating – cause you be disconnected from the present moment and those around you – and even cause you anxiety or depression, or both?
If so, read on to find out why and how gratitude can give you instant relief and an extra dose of happiness.
Gratitude can be a natural antidepressant
What are you most grateful for right here right now?
Take a moment now and think of three things that you are grateful for having in your life right now – they don’t need to be big – they can be “I have a healthy body “ I have a lovely home “ “I have wonderful friends who love and support me”
(and I’m serious – please do take a moment)
Because when we do this, certain neural circuits in the brain are activated and those feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin are released – in exactly the same way that antidepressants work within the brain.
So practicing gratitude creates the same effects and same feelings of happiness and contentment – that those drugs do – how incredible is that?
Practice makes perfect
The more you do this, the stronger and more automatic these thoughts / neural pathways become. It’s exactly the same as with creating any new habit – of thought or behaviour. I have talked about this fully in my video and blog on New Year’s Resolutions and creating habits that stick but here’s the main point that’s relevant here:
When you are creating or breaking any new habit you are creating a brand new neural pathway in your brain. I see it like a woodland pathway – in order for that pathway to become a well trodden route through the woods, we need to walk down it again and again. Like that, when we are creating any new habit (for example getting up early to run in the morning), we are not only creating a brand new pathway, but we are also having to resist the urge to go down the already well-trodden, easier pathway (ie. Staying in our nice warm bed as we have done for years). This all takes a lot of brain energy and effort!
So if we usually are constantly looking at the negative, the bad, or worrying – that negative thinking also becomes stronger. And gratitude shifts our attention to the positive, what is good, what is going well, what we do have in our lives, and over time, as those thoughts get stronger – it encourages our brain to stay over there and think more positively all round.
How to start
I am a huge advocate of morning routines, and this is when I do my gratitudes. This is a great way for setting your brain up to think positively and feel happier for the rest of the day.
So to get started I recommend you write down three things that you are grateful for in your life in this moment. So for example this morning I wrote….
I am grateful for:
1) My daughter Amelie – having her in my life and being able to witness her grow and develop into who she really is
2) My boyfriend Ben for his constant love, care and wisdom
3) This time and space to think and reflect
And what is essential – remembering that woodland pathway analogy – is that in order to really make a change within your brain – you do need to just practice practice practice.
Having done mine (almost daily) now for the past 18 months, what I have noticed is an ability to remember these when I am feeling stressed, or I do get swept away in all of the doing, and start feeling anxious. I have also noticed themes – which really helps in terms of remembering what is important in life.
So to get you started I challenge you to do this for the next 10 days straight.
What do you say? Let me know in the comments below if you accept, and then again after the 10 days!
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