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Gratitude helps us overcome our hard-wired negativity bias—our tendency to focus on negative events rather than positive ones. Earlier in human history, negativity bias had an important survival function. Perceiving a threat more strongly than a benign encounter could have been the difference between life and death. But today negativity bias just makes us unhappy and anxious. It also explains why it takes so much intentionality to practice gratitude.

Practicing gratitude also requires slowing down long enough to think and reflect—which seems harder and harder in our “always-on” culture. Many of us are so overscheduled, overstimulated, and focused on the future that we struggle to see what’s right in front of us. Or, we’re so obsessed with improving our situation—chasing a promotion, trying to lose weight, or getting out of debt—that all we can think about is what we lack.

All that to say, if gratitude doesn’t come naturally to you, it’s normal. This is part of being human. But just because your gratitude muscle is weak doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise it. It takes time and intentionality, but the benefits of regularly reflecting on what you’re grateful for is worth the investment.

How Gratitude Changes our Brains

Practicing gratitude allows our brains to release serotonin and dopamine—two “feel good” chemicals that positively impact mood, willpower, and motivation. Regularly engaging in a gratitude practice strengthens these neural pathways. Over time, practicing gratitude will “train” your brain to focus on what’s going well versus what isn’t. And that leads to all sorts of positive outcomes—mental and physical.

You can practice gratitude in different ways:

  • gratitude exercises, such as journaling

  • paying attention to the little things in life, like the birds in the trees

  • telling someone you’re grateful for them or for something they did, even if it was a long time ago

  • doing something kind for someone in your life to express your gratitude

  • meditating on the positive aspects of your life

  • giving thanks through prayer

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