Thanksgiving is coming, and it’s supposed to be a day focused on gratitude. However, your first thoughts may have instead filled you with anxiety and overwhelm. The planning, the cleaning, the cooking, the in-laws, the travel, the overeating. Our brains are wired for negative thinking, and this helped our ancestors survive in an unpredictable world. Currently, most of us are fortunate enough to live in a safe environment where our daily survival is not a concern. Instead, these patterns of negative thinking create an unpleasant reality and make us more susceptible to depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and even chronic disease.
Did you know that you can reprogram your brain with a daily gratitude practice? Gratitude makes you feel happier, improves your relationships, and makes you more productive. It also decreases your blood pressure and your cortisol levels and improves immune function. A 2008 UCLA fMRI study of gratitude showed increased levels of serotonin and dopamine as well as increased activity in the hypothalamus, which regulates sleep, appetite, temperature, and mood regulation. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and anxiety, and low levels of dopamine are associated with obesity and addiction. Those who practice gratitude on a regular basis, have better sleep, improved metabolism, more energy, less pain, less stress, and improved overall physical and mental health.
Choose a time each day to sit down and write out five things that you are grateful for. These don’t have to be big things like family and health, which you might mention around the Thanksgiving table. You can write down little things that bring you joy. The process of searching for things that you’re grateful for, changes your brain and becomes habitual. Do this every day during the month of November, and you will truly have something to be grateful for on Thanksgiving.