Over the past couple of years, self-improvement and healthier lifestyles have gained extreme popularity. One of the most popular and science-backed ways of improving day-to-day life is gratitude journaling. Researchers have uncovered numerous health benefits when it comes to expressing gratitude, such as increased happiness levels, greater resiliency, and even better sleep. Some researchers even suggest that expressing gratitude regularly can mimic the same effects as antidepressants (on a smaller scale of course). But can expressing gratitude actually change the way we think? Extensive research done by author and neuroscientist Alex Korb reveals that it can, in many ways.
By expressing gratitude our brain is forced to inhibit the use of the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is most notably known for regulating our hormonal system, which in turn regulates our emotional state of mind. Alex Korb’s research suggests that when we express gratitude our brain activates the dopamine system that lives within the hypothalamus. Dopamine is one of the main chemicals responsible for happiness and when triggered makes us crave more of wherever caused it. In this addictive segway, a gratitude journal essentially hacks your brain into seeking out positive aspects of your life, even when everything may seem negative. The activation of the dopamine cycle as a result of gratitude journaling has comparable effects to that of popular antidepressants known as SSRIs. SSRIs help to increase levels of serotonin in the brain to help improve overall mood, similar to the activation of the dopamine cycle. You can train your brain using this addictive response to disconnect from negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts.
A 2018 behavioral study conducted by two social scientists, Dickens and DeSteno, revealed that journaling every day led to a higher level of self-control and patience, which in turn facilitated helping behavior towards others. The idea behind the study was to determine how consistent expression of gratitude could affect prosocial behavior. The results showed that consciously expressing gratitude affected our subconscious in a way that filtered out negative thoughts and more easily realized positive ones. This, however, only came after consistently expressing gratitude over long periods of time so don’t expect to retrain your subconscious overnight. Neural pathways take time to form and reshape so don’t give up if you don’t instantly see results!
There have been so many different and unique ideas in the past couple years of fun ways to express gratitude such as tik tok trends, gratitude circles, gratitude journaling, and more. With the impact of COVID-19, people have been able to realize the true impact of embracing gratitude on mental and emotional health because they have been tested the most during this long time spent at home. This time allowed people to really deepen their understanding of themselves and their perspective on life as a whole. Self-growth and improved mental health are some of the benefits that come with this as well. Take the time to get to know yourself and write down your emotions. It is difficult at first because it is hard to accept certain emotions and feelings, but overall opening up to oneself is harder than one may expect.
Miller, Kori. “14 Health Benefits of Practicing Gratitude According to Science.” PositivePsychology.com, 4 Feb. 2022,