Remember George Bailey? He’s the lead character in the film It’s a Wonderful Life. The film was released in 1946, and it features the story of George, a guy who’s trying to do all the right things for all the right reasons, but finds himself burned out, disenfranchised, and taking out his frustrations and disappointments on those he’s closest to. He wonders what the point of his life is, and if anyone would even notice if he was gone.

Sound familiar? Because that’s probably how you’ve felt in certain seasons of your life. It’s certainly how I’ve felt in some of mine. In the film, George is guided by an angel to see what life in his town and in his family would look like if he weren’t around, if things were different. And what he discovers is that his life matters. In a flood of revelation, he is overwhelmed with gratitude for his messy, ‘average’ life.

Gratitude isn’t just a mindset; it’s a literal mind set. It biochemically changes your brain when you move forward with gratitude for your life. Wild, isn’t it? Researchers have found that when test subjects write down thoughts of gratitude over several months, their emotional health improves over those who are not practicing intentional gratitude. Gratitude has also been shown to boost immunity, and improve sleep.

So how does something as being grateful for your life change your brain with such big benefits?

  1. Gratitude grounds your brain in the present. When you are thinking about what you are grateful for today, you are staying present. That level of self-awareness and focus on today is a powerful way to reduce worry (future-casting) and regret ((past-focus). Gratitude doesn’t have to be about the big wins in your today; it can be for simple things, like smelling your favorite candle scent or being thankful for the clear blue of an autumn sky. And those things keep you grounded in where your feet are, this moment, this day.
  2. Gratitude floods your brain with all the feel-good hormones, dopamine and serotonin. Our brains are significantly impacted by the chemicals and hormones that surge through them through the experiences and thoughts we have. Our brains love serotonin and dopamine. There are healthy ways to access those brain chemicals and less healthy ways, like over-eating, alcohol, and an overuse of screen time. Gratitude, thinking thoughts about what you’re thankful for, gives you all the happy of those brain chemicals without engaging those brain chemicals through less healthy means.
  3. Gratitude increases creativity, productivity, and higher thinking skills. Have a lot of on your plate that needs to get done in the upcoming holiday season and in your end-of-the-year responsibilities at work? Gratitude is where it’s at. A mindset focused on what’s wrong and what’s missing takes you into lower brain thoughts that are a whole lot more focused on survival than on ideation and elevated thinking. When you express thankfulness for the things and people in your life, you give your brain ‘permission’ to stay creative, rather than staying in a state of scramble for resources and alert. 

How can you practice more gratitude on your life? Thankfully (no pun intended), it’s pretty simple. Jot down two or three things every day that you are grateful for. They can be very simple items. In conversations, before you say something negative, take a beat and say one thing you’re thankful for. If you’re in a business situation in which you’re having to navigate a problem, start the meeting with a statement of gratitude for the opportunity to find solutions and for working with your team. If you’re working with your child on a homework assignment that is frustrating to both of you, start the study session with a statement of gratitude for the opportunity of learning and for education. It doesn’t have to be something deeply sentimental, and it certainly shouldn’t be untrue. But a statement of simple gratitude will prime your brain to look for the good and for creative solutions, which will make the whole situation you’re dealing with less stressful.

If you find that you are always tending toward negative self-talk or looking for what is wrong, consider working with a coach or counselor to help you with your thinking processes. If you’re an Altrua HealthShare member, you’ll find that on certain memberships, you have access to LifeWorks, a counseling and coaching service that can help. If you’re not currently an Altrua HealthShare member, take a look at your healthcare options and consider how you can make a healthier mindset part of your overall healthcare strategy. You might find it’s time to make the transition to a healthcare option that includes caring for your emotional and brain health with a group like Altrua HealthShare. 

Additionally, take some time to think on scriptures that reinforce your sense of gratitude for your life and for your relationship with God. Here are a few to get you started:

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

1 Chronicles 16:34

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. — 2 Thessalonians 1:3

As we head into the season of Thanksgiving, you’ll be seeing reminders everywhere about giving thanks and living in gratitude. Take advantage of the season to readjust your mindset. You’ll be thankful you did!