Blog Contributed by Juliet Caceres, PsyD – Spirituality Clinical Director at Timberline Knolls
America has officially embarked on the holiday season. This is a time when appreciation, thankfulness and the benefits of practicing gratitude are particularly emphasized throughout our culture. The question: “What are you most thankful for?” is often posed at Thanksgiving get-togethers.
Weeks later, gifts are given to those we most appreciate in our lives. If only this commitment to gratitude could be embraced and practiced throughout the year because of its many benefits.
Recent research indicates that positive changes occur in an individual when gratitude is expressed. Several studies were conducted to ascertain these benefits. One study looked at journaling.
Half of the group was encouraged to write about positive life issues, while the other half was instructed to focus on negative things, such as experiences or people that annoyed them. Those in the positive group experienced greater optimism, improved exercise patterns and fewer physical ailments.
Another study unearthed the neurological component of gratitude. Those who routinely practiced higher levels of gratitude experienced increased blood flow to the hippocampus.
This is the area of the brain that is responsible for eating, drinking, sleep, metabolism and stress levels. This heightened stimulation in that region of the brain also resulted in increased production of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that produces the “reward” or “feel good” sensation.
Another interesting discovery of late involves the “type” of gratitude. In order to reap the physical and psychological benefits of practicing gratitude must be positive in nature not negative. For example, say you have a friend whose child suffers with terrible asthma.
You say to yourself, “I’m so glad my child doesn’t have any diseases.” This is gratitude based on a negative thought. However, if you say, “I am so incredibly fortunate that my child is healthy,” you are recognizing and appreciating something positive in your life. It is this approach that garners mental and physical benefits.
Even better, practicing gratitude becomes self-perpetuating. Increased gratitude produces increased reinforcement, which increases gratitude and on and on. This is referred to as a cycle of virtue.
Spiritual Benefits of Practicing Gratitude
It may seem surprising that the human brain is wired to reinforce gratitude; however, with further consideration, it really isn’t that remarkable. God created the brain and He repeatedly calls His children to be thankful; He wants them to be full of gratitude, praise and thanksgiving.
In the Bible, illustrations are provided as to how we can move from negativity to a positive state. In Psalms 69 and 73, David follows a pattern. First, he expresses how miserable he and his life are. But then he definitively shifts his attention to God. Once refocused, David’s words are positive, his outlook hopeful.
Practicing the Strategy
Imagine if you embraced this approach to problems. Say you encounter extreme difficulty; in turn, you verbalize your feelings, knowing it is healthy to do so.
But, once all emotions are sufficiently expressed, you intentionally redirect your focus on what is positive in life, what is beautiful and good, what brings you joy. David focused on God; in your life, it could be the loveliness of the day, or the cat purring on your lap.
Here is why choosing positivity is so important: the human brain, despite its many intricacies, literally cannot focus on two entirely separate issues at the same time.
Therefore, if you are 100% focused on the cool breeze and sunshine or the sound and feel of the cat, your brain cannot and will not entertain the negative thoughts that consumed you earlier. And, the beauty is, once engaged with the positive, the cycle of virtue begins and continues.
About the Author:
Juliet Cáceres, PsyD, CEDS is the Director of Spiritual Services at Timberline Knolls and a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Certified Eating Disorders Specialist with more than 25 years of practice. She currently serves at Timberline Knolls as the Clinical Director of Spiritual Care leading clinical integration of spirituality as core to the Timberline Knolls’ recovery program.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Reviewed & Approved on October 1, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC
Published October 1, 2019, on EatingDisorderHope.com