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Can We Reprogram Our Brains For A Healthier And Happier Year Ahead?

Former World Rugby 7s Player of the Year and England Captain Ollie Phillips, who now runs Optimist Performance spoke to us on how we can all improve ourselves with some simple small steps in 2022.

ollie phillips

With the new year around the corner, we are all probably planning how to improve ourselves.

Whether we want to be healthier, happier, more productive, less stressed, or even have better relationships and contribute more to society, we need to prepare for it.

Fortunately, there is an easy way to reprogram our brains to help us achieve our new year resolutions, and that’s having an attitude of gratitude.

We all have probably heard about the many benefits of being grateful, but what is truly remarkable is how gratitude can reshape our brains to help us achieve long-lasting results. 

The benefits of having an attitude of gratitude

We have now numerous studies and research that prove the incredible benefits of being grateful. 

These are some of the benefits and research of having an attitude of gratitude:

  • It helps strengthen relationships, and couples studies showed that it could help couples have a long-lasting relationship (Algoe, 2012).
  • It can also reduce or prevent burnout, and it helps reduce anxiety and depression. 
  • It fosters adaptive coping mechanisms, improving our emotional resilience and inner strength (Gloria & Steinhardt, 2016).
  • It helps team cohesiveness in the workplace. Individuals who practise gratitude are more likely to take more responsibility at work and go that extra mile. In turn, it improves productivity and teamwork. 
  • It helps to cultivate altruism. It increases generosity, helpfulness and empathy towards others (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002). Being grateful is linked to an increased level of concern for social responsibility. “gratitude rewards generosity and maintains the cycle of healthy social behaviour” (Bergland, 2015)
  • It links to life satisfaction and self-esteem, making people more optimistic about their future (McCullough et al., 2002) & (Lin, 2015).

But the most crucial benefit of all for us, is how it impacts our brains and how we can use gratitude as a way to reshape them. 

How does being grateful impact our brains?

  • It releases dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters, two essential neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions; they make us feel good. 
  • It reduces our cortisol level, the stress hormone, so it helps decrease stress.  
  • It creates and triggers new neuronal connections in the brain’s “bliss” centre, making us feel happier.
  • It activates the medial prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain associated with managing negative emotions, which makes it easier for us to deal with difficult situations. 
  • This area of the brain is also associated with “neural pure altruism”, so it makes our brain crave the experience of giving.  
  • It helps with cognitive restructuring by practising positive thinking. This means we will be more prone to notice and focus on the positive things moving forward. 

These are some fantastic effects for something as easy as being grateful in our optimist opinion.

Furthermore, gratitude not only has a short-term influence on our brain, but it also has a long-term effect, even if we simply practise it for a short time. 

How does being grateful become a tool to reprogram our brains?

Our brains have the ability to develop new neural connections throughout our lives. This is called Neuroplasticity, and it’s why we are able to learn new things and even recover from brain injuries. 

In addition, there is a saying in neuroscience; “the neurons that fire together, wire together”.

This means the more we use these connections, the stronger they become. And therefore, the easier it’s to activate them in the future, making them a habit. 

So, in order to reprogram our brains for long-term gain, all we need to do is create the habit of gratitude. 

Furthermore, because the neurotransmitters, neural connections and brain regions that gratitude activates in our brains are all linked to our reward system, being grateful functions as its own positive reinforcement, making it easier to create the habit of gratitude.

3 easy ideas to cultivate an attitude of gratitude

Here are three simple strategies to cultivate an attitude of gratitude that have been proven to work, one of them actually by ourselves. 

  1. Have grateful thoughts first thing in the morning or last thing at night. 
  2. Keep a gratitude journal. As easy as writing three things you’re grateful for each day or people you are grateful to have in your life. Simply write down all the things you are thankful for. 
  3. Write gratitude notes. Write thank-you notes to the people you value in your life. You don’t need to share them with them, but it has been proven to have an even more significant impact.

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