“There is no better way to thank God for your sight than by giving a helping hand to someone in the dark.” —Helen Keller
If you know me, even just a little bit, you will know why this quote is my battle cry. I am infinitely grateful for the sight I have left. Most of us now know that expressing our gratitude daily can reduce our stress levels. In my own experience, it has consistently been a powerful stress-busting strategy. Together with generosity, which basically is gratitude in action, it is the foundation of everything I share with my clients/readers, especially in my book Embracing Change in 10 Minutes a Day: Simple Strategies, Smart Suggestions and Insight-giving Stories (Fabriqué en France Book 3) – my way of giving others, in the dark, a helping hand.
Have you ever wondered what really happens in your brain when you spend a few minutes each day expressing your gratitude in a gratitude journal?
We now know that reflecting daily on what you are grateful for not only affects your emotional well-being, but it also has a significant impact on your brain activity.
Feeling grateful directly activates the limbic system in the brain and triggers the release of oxytocin, a potent neurotransmitter that positively influences your state of mind. We don’t produce oxytocin without a stimulus and feeling thankful is a powerful trigger for the release of oxytocin.
Oxytocin stimulates your brain to start what neuroscientists call a virtuous cycle. The human brain reacts to either positive stimuli or negative stimuli, but it can not react to both at the same time. When the brain is reacting to a positive stimulus, it will remain in a virtuous cycle until it encounters a negative stimulus, which might break the cycle.
Interestingly, we produce more oxytocin when we express gratitude ourselves than when someone else expresses their gratitude to us.
As I explain in Embracing Change in 10 Minutes a Day, when you are thinking about all the things/people/circumstances/events that you are thankful for, you cannot at the same time stress about what has happened in the past or what might happen in the future.
As I might also have mentioned, especially during one of my stress-busting and confidence-boosting retreats, research shows that keeping a gratitude journal as part of your daily routine is one of the most effective ways to release oxytocin and start (and maintain) a virtuous cycle.
In the same manner, the brain can get stuck in a negative circuit called a vicious cycle. When the brain gets trapped in a vicious cycle, it becomes blind to positive events/circumstances and focuses on negative events/circumstances. What’s more, your brain is constantly looking for anything that proves that what it believes, is true. We call this a confirmation bias.
For example, if your alarm doesn’t go off, your car doesn’t want to start and when it does the traffic is worse than usual because you are late, you might start thinking that you’re all set to have a miserable day. Your brain will now search for evidence to prove that you are right.
Likewise, if the sun shines, your coffee tastes heavenly, your car starts the first time, you find the perfect parking spot, you’ll soon be convinced that it is going to be a great day. Your brain immediately starts searching for evidence to confirm that you are right. You either get stuck in the virtuous cycle or in the vicious cycle. Expressing gratitude can flip your brain from a vicious to a virtuous cycle.
“Thank you for being you. Thank you for listening. Thank you for inspiring/encouraging/supporting/understanding me. Thank you for allowing me to express my opinion. Thank you for noticing. Thank you for brightening my world. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for remembering.Thank you for being an important part of my story/life. Thank you for being there for me.”
Thanking the people who are important to you, at work as well as at home, can have such a long-term positive effect on your well-being that it would be a shame not to give it a go. You can start keeping a gratitude diary today, noting 5 events, circumstances, people, achievements or possessions that you are thankful for every morning and every evening in your journal and you can decide to thank at least 5 people every day, at home and at work, and see for yourself how effective it is.
Expressing gratitude at work is a great stress-reducing strategy, en plus, it can increase everyone’s creativity, productivity and emotional intelligence.
How about lifting your spirits by thanking all essential workers? A simple tweet will work wonders, as long as you mean it. Follow Janine Martinez’s example, ‘A personal thanks to all the essential workers that have displayed courageous, selfless, and genuine caring for those that need you the most during COVID. We know you have been missing your families, loved ones, as you are caring for everyone else. You are being stretched thin and most likely fighting the virus yourselves. Thank you! Thank you for your long shifts and dedication and being on the frontlines!!‘
See also: Embracing Change and boost Resilience and Creating Sanctuaries