An Attitude of Gratitude: Changing Your Brain

Each November, we have a special tradition - #30daysofThanksgiving. We express gratitude on our Facebook page for the 30 days of November for the many blessings in our lives. We also try to encourage others to get involved with the campaign to do the same thing. Living with the effects of Parkinson’s disease on a daily basis not only causes depression and apathy, but can really be a daily reminder of things that are going WRONG in our lives! Having at least a month of an "Attitude of Gratitude" may help us start a habit we can continue throughout the year of reminding us of what is RIGHT, but it also can change our brain!

The neuroscience behind gratitude

Studies on gratitude and the brain are not new. They have been going on for quite a while. According to UCLA's Mindfulness Awareness Research Center, “regularly expressing gratitude literally changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeps the gray matter functioning, and makes us happier and healthier.”

A study done with keeping "gratitude journals", showed that young people had more determination, energy, and less anxiety, while others had less pain and depression. (Emmons and McCullough, 2003) Other researchers found that the expression of gratitude increased the quality of sleep patterns and less anxiety and depression. (Ng et al, 2012) Maybe instead of counting sheep, we need to start counting our blessings before bed each night!

Probably the most important study in regards to Parkinson’s disease came from the National Institutes of Health. The overall effects of gratitude had a major effect on the hypothalamus. This is important because it controls a wide array of our bodily functions, including metabolism, and stress levels. (Zahn et al, 2009)

Also, researchers found that feelings of gratitude directly affect the brain regions responsible for the neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin. DOPAMINE! Hey, that is the stuff we need!

Creating gratitude 365 days a year

So now we know that expressing gratitude can help us with Parkinson’s by easing our depression, helping us sleep, easing our pain, and even giving us a shot of dopamine and serotonin here and there! What can we do to all year long to be grateful?

  1. Start a gratitude journal. Start simple - list three to five things that you are grateful for. Some days it may be that you managed to get out of bed! But you are grateful! As you get used to it, you could start to make your entries longer.
  2. Be AWARE of expressing gratitude whenever possible! This does not have to only be a thing we do in November. Try to be grateful for the little things in life. This may even include returning small acts of kindness - doing something special for someone that did something nice for you.
  3. Thank someone who did a random act of kindness for you. This can include your care partner - try to thank your care partner when you can.
  4. Send a sticky note in your kids’ lunch box.

Get creative these are only suggestions, but the idea is to be more aware of the people and things we HAVE and not of the stuff we DON’T have.

You will be happier and healthier for it in the long run!

I am so grateful that you read my article!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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