Begin each day by listing 3 things you are grateful for.
“Thankfulness helps you see that you’re an object of love and care.” (Aaronson, 2006). When we believe we are an object of love, care, and respect, our confidence and concept of self-worth increases. Similar to altruism, gratitude has the power to boost our mood and sense of self. It’s a simple way to naturally increase our happiness.
We have a happiness factory at our disposal in our brains. Oxytocin, also known as the “cuddle hormone”, is both a neurotransmitter and hormone created in the hypothalamus and distributed by the pituitary gland in the brain (MacGill, 2015). While it is most often discussed for its release and pair bonding properties in romantic and parent-child relationships, oxytocin has other positive side effects. Oxytocin is an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) hormone that can decrease our stress responses. It has become a widely researched neurotransmitter for its many benefits in psychotherapeutic interventions (MacGill, 2015).
Gratitude floods our brains with oxytocin which in turn creates more receptors for the transmitter (Markham, 2016). Gratitude can quite literally change the chemical makeup of our brains. Markham believes this is a kind of set point or baseline for our happiness which we can manipulate if not fully control. By practicing gratitude on a daily basis, we can boost oxytocin, increase the happiness receptors in our brains, and move our set point further along.
Even in situations of great strain, when gratitude seems impossible, fake it until you literally make it. By finding the positive side of any situation, you can change your perspective and how you feel about the problem. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl said “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”. We can become bitter and resentful (the cancers of relationships), or we can practice gratitude and change our chemical makeup. We can become lost in suffering; in the suffering we see on television or social media or the suffering we see on the streets and in conflict. Think of gratitude as the light that can guide us through such pain. Whether you want to call it the power of positive thinking, prayer, thankfulness, or appreciation, gratitude can bring joy and health into your life, your relationship, and your body.
Aaronson, Lauren. “Make a Gratitude Adjustment”. Psychology Today. 1 March 2006. Web. 12 Sep. 2016. https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200603/make-gratitude-adjustment
MacGill, Markus. “Oxytocin: What is it and what does it do?.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 21 Sep. 2015. Web. 12 Sep. 2016. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/275795.php>
Markham, Laura. “Using Gratitude to Change Your Happiness Set Point”. Psychology Today. 6 Sep. 2016. Web 12 Sep. 2016. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/peaceful-parents-happy-kids/201609/using-gratitude-change-your-happiness-set-point