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The Neuroscience of Gratitude: How Gratitude Transforms Your Mindset

woman with her hands in the air

Hello, unstoppable mindset friends! Today, we're going on a fascinating journey into the world of neuroscience, gratitude, and how being in a state of gratitude can transform your mindset.

Why Gratitude?

You might be thinking, "Why should I care about gratitude?" OR “Been there, done that, and it doesn’t work.” I get it. I used to think similarly until A) I understood the brain science and the impact gratitude has and B) I was in a piss-poor mood that nothing could penetrate.  More on that a little later.

For now, let’s dive into a little bit of brain science.

The Brain on Gratitude

When you’re expressing sincere gratitude, whether to another person, on the pages of your journal, or out loud your brain releases feel-good chemicals. It's like your brain’s way of giving you a high-five for being awesome and noticing the good stuff that surrounds you.

These chemicals not only make you feel happier and calmer, but they also help to shift your mindset. At the end of the day, it’s hard to focus on the negative or feel negatively when your brain is releasing a cocktail of feel-good chemicals.

(Little fun brain factoid side note: Did you know that your brain can’t think positive and negative thoughts at the same time? It’s true and don’t take my word for it, give it a try yourself.)

By practicing sincere gratitude, you're not just making yourself feel good in the moment—you’re setting yourself up for longer-term happiness and resilience. You’re helping to train your brain to use gratitude to lift your mood and in turn shift your mindset.

Remember, my piss-poor mood that nothing would penetrate?

I was stressed out to the max about something. And as you may know stress causes the release of stress-related chemicals to prepare us to either “fight, fly, freeze, or fawn.” You see, the brain is responding to signals and trying to protect us from a perceived danger. Now, while I wasn’t in any danger, I was heading down the dark, stinky rabbit hole of a negative mindset which was being fed by those stress-related chemicals. (Enter that piss-poor mood.)

Gratitude and Mindset Shifts

How does all this science stuff translate to real life?

Imagine your brain as a vegetable garden. Negative thoughts are like weeds that crowd out the veggies, while gratitude is like the healthy, vibrant carrot, zucchini, and green bean plants. When you consistently practice gratitude, you’re essentially cultivating a thriving garden in your mind, making it more resilient and better able to handle life’s challenges. This practice helps you see options and solutions, rather than just the obstacles.

Not to mention, people who regularly practice gratitude report lower levels of stress and anxiety, better sleep, and even improved physical health. It’s like having a superpower that you can activate anytime, anywhere.

Fun Gratitude Exercises to Get Those Feel-Good Chemicals Flowing

Alright, enough with the science—let’s get to the fun part! Here’s are simple yet powerful exercises to incorporate gratitude into your daily routine.

The Gratitude Jar

What You’ll Need:

- A jar (any jar will do, even an old pickle jar!)

- Small pieces of paper or sticky notes

- A pen

- A bit of your time each day

How to Do It:

1. Decorate Your Jar: Make it fun! Add some stickers, paint it, or tie a ribbon around it. Make it something that makes you smile just by looking at it.

2. Daily Gratitude: Each day, write down one thing you’re grateful for on a piece of paper. Make it something that feels good, something that you’re sincerely grateful for so you engage the reward center of your brain and release those feel-good chemicals.  It can be anything from the delicious coffee you had this morning to a kind word from a friend.

3. Fill the Jar: Fold up the paper and drop it into the jar. Watch as the jar fills up over time—a visual reminder of all the good things in your life.

4. Review and Reflect: On days when you’re feeling a bit down, open the jar and read through the notes. It’s a great way to boost your mood and remind yourself of all the positivity in your life.

Reflective Gratitude Journaling

This empowering and relaxing exercise is one I learned during a meditation on Insight Timer.

What You’ll Need:

-       Your journal

-       A pen you love to write with

-       10-15 minutes of time

How to Do It:

In your journal answer the following three questions:

1. What/Who inspired me today?

2. What/Who gave me comfort today?

3. What/Who brought me joy today?

Then go back and re-read what you wrote. Take some time to soak in the goodness.

This is a great exercise to get your brain going in a positive direction before falling asleep.

And the last exercise is one that I used when I was in that piss-poor mood.

In the Moment

What You’ll Need:

-       You

-       Your surroundings

How to Do It:

In the moment, look around and notice your surroundings. Focus on something that makes your life easier, richer, better, happier, etc. And then out loud, express your gratitude and why you’re grateful.

As an example, I’ll share what I did that day that my mindset was tanking. I scanned my office and caught a glimpse of my sweet little dog Henry curled up on the floor next to me, peacefully sleeping. And out loud I said something along the lines of this…

“I am so grateful for my sweet pup who brings so much joy into my life. I am grateful for his companionship and the way he has a tendency of lighting up the room with his little peppy walk and his angel wing ears.”

All the sudden, my piss-poor mood dissipated and was overtaken by the immense amount of love that I have for that little guy.

Some Final Thoughts

Practicing sincere gratitude is a powerful tool for transforming your mindset from negative to a mindset of possibilities. By understanding the neuroscience behind gratitude, you can appreciate just how impactful this simple practice can be.

So, start today—grab a jar, some paper, or whatever gratitude exercise resonates with you, and get ready to amp up those feel-good chemicals.

Stay grateful and unstoppable!

P.S. What gratitude exercises have you tried and loved? Be sure to share them – thank you!


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