You’ve heard about the benefits of journaling. But with a gratitude journal, you don’t have to write volumes about your life or even reflect on your day. Instead, you just need to write down three things you’re grateful for every day. It’s simple, and the brain benefits can be stunning. Look at the ways gratitude can change your brain:
1. Boost in happiness hormones
When you practice gratitude, it invigorates the reward pathways in your brain. This boosts the serotonin and dopamine levels in your brain. These are the happiness chemicals that people chase when they’re doing drugs or engaging in a lot of risky behavior. But when you generate them naturally through a practice of gratitude, you can get an unlimited amount. Gratitude breeds happiness, which breeds more gratitude, which breeds more happiness, and the cycle is really endless.
2. Shift to positivity
Are you locked in negative patterns of thinking? Well, gratitude can reverse that. When you think the same type of thoughts over and over, they basically create paths between your brain’s neurons. It’s easier for your thoughts to run over these well worn paths than to take new routes.
But when you keep a gratitude journal, you practice having positive thoughts. You start to carve out new paths in your brain. Over time, it becomes easier and more natural to have positive thoughts.
3. Long-term brain effects.
Researchers at Berkely had subjects complete a range of gratitude-based tasks. Then, they measured brain activity a few months later. Both subjects who had written gratitude letters and those who donated to charity out of gratitude had more activity in their medial prefrontal cortex three months after the exercise. This is the part of the brain that helps with making decisions and learning.
4. Increased kindness
There’s actually a part of your brain that wants to make you kinder and more giving to other people. Research indicates that when you write about things that make you feel grateful, you activate this part of your brain. You start to exhibit pure altruism.
5. Help with grief and anxiety
Because of the ways gratitude changes the brain, it helps to release toxic emotions. It allows you to see the positive side of life, even when you are fully acknowledging that many things are truly sad. By extension, gratitude journals can be very helpful for people who struggle with anxiety or are experiencing grief.
Beyond the benefits above, gratitude can help you sleep better, reduce pain, and feel more joy. To get started, just write down three things you’re grateful for. They can be big, small, or in between. You might be grateful for the ocean or a diamond ring. The things you’re grateful for can be emotional and meaningful, but you can also just be grateful for your favorite lipstick color.
A gratitude journal isn’t complicated. You just write down three things you love. If you get stuck on the same thing, just note different aspects of it. Like if you’re grateful for your best friend, write down details about her that you love. Over time, you’ll be shocked at how this simple practice changes your brain and your life.