05 Oct The Neuroscience of Gratitude
I’ve got another book to add to my reading list: The Upward Spiral by UCLA neuroscience researcher, Alex Korb. I’m always interested in learning more about how the brain works, neural plasticity, and neuroscience in general. Having just finished The Power of Habit, I’m on the lookout for another “how the brain works” book. The Upward Spiral is primarily concerned with the brain processes that cause depression, but I’m mostly interestested in what Korb has to say about gratitude.
What sparked my interest in The Upward Spiral? This post from Eric Barker of Barking Up the Wrong Tree. According to Barker, Korb explains that feeling guilt, shame, and pride all activate the same neural circuits, namely the brain’s reward system. In the short term, feeling guilt, shame, pride and worry makes the brain feel better. But in the long term, obviously, worrying is not a satisfying solution for unhappiness.
The better solution, according to neuroscientists is feeling grateful, because gratitude boosts the neurotransmitters dopamine and seratonin. Feeling gratitude makes your brain feel happy.
But what about those days when it seems like nothing is going right, the mental storm clouds have rolled in, and you can feel the darkness falling down around you? It’s at those moments that trying to think of things, people, events we’re grateful for can really help – even if we can’t come up with a single thing. The kicker is, just trying to be grateful is enough to boost your dopamine and seratonin levels. The more you practice feeling grateful, the more efficient the brain becomes at boosting seratonin and dopamine.
I’ll save more of a discussion of The Upward Spiral until I’ve read it for myself and have learned more, first-hand, about what Korb has to say about the neuroscience of gratitude. I know from personal experience, though, how much feeling gratitude can increase happiness. My practice of Heartfull Meditation has shown me how choosing to feel gratitude on a regular basis can make a positive change in your well-being, both brain and spirit.
Don’t just take Alex Korb’s word for it, though. Take some time throughout the week to touch your Heart Center and count your blessings. See if feeling grateful for the people, things, and events in your life doesn’t make you feel better.