I know that many people are opposed to New Year’s Resolutions, but I like to use the start of the year as a time to reflect and figure out areas in which I would like to improve. This year, my goal is to be more vocal about my gratitude. I find that I’m often writing things I’m grateful for in my journal, but I rarely tell people I appreciate them. As a start, I gave a thank you card to my friend’s mom who always hosts us at her house and cooks us dinner. From experience, I know that showing gratitude feels good, but it turns out that gratitude actually changes the brain.
In a study performed at Berkeley, participants who wrote about gratitude rather than negative experiences experienced improved mental health after the exercise ended. This is theorized to be because writing about gratitude shifts one’s mind away from toxic thoughts and emotions. And it turns out, participants saw mental health benefits regardless of whether or not they send their gratitude letters. So simply the act of writing these letters imparted the benefits. Furthermore, participants who were more grateful “showed greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning and decision making. This suggests that people who are more grateful are also more attentive to how they express gratitude.” These differences were found again three months later, suggesting that showing gratitude creates lasting changes in the brain.
With this knowledge, I have been able to specify my new year’s goal further. Not only will I aim to tell people I appreciate them, I will try to write one thing I’m grateful for each day.
How do you show gratitude in your life? Have you ever written down gratitudes or expressed gratitude to others? How does it make you feel?