Opinion: Changing the way you think with gratitude

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Commentary by Mike Colaw

Talk about this over the holidays with your families.

What if I told you the way you think could physically change your brain chemistry? You would probably think I was lying. We are who we are, right? Well, that’s not exactly true. Yes, there are dispositions that different personalities lean toward but your attitude, and dare I say personality, is more pliable than you think. There is emerging evidence that the mind can be shaped through a thinking exercise.

Here is where it starts to sound too good to be true. The research shows that a specific thinking (and talking) process can reduce physical aches and pains, depression, anxiety  and improve sleep.

So, what is it? Gratitude. Yep, being grateful. Don’t think of gratitude as a feeling, but a way of choosing to view the world. Gratitude can precede an emotional response. You can choose to think and talk gratefully and the body, over time, will begin to feel grateful.

There are many resources showing this thinking exercise to be incredibly powerful, but Dr. Korb, a research neuroscientist at UCLA, said it clearest:

“The wide variety of effects that gratitude can have may seem surprising, but a direct look at the brain activity during gratitude yields some insight. NIH researchers examined blood flow in various brain regions while subjects summoned up feelings of gratitude. They found that subjects who showed more gratitude overall had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus. This is important because the hypothalamus controls a huge array of essential bodily functions, including eating, drinking and sleeping. It also has a huge influence on your metabolism and stress levels.”

Even more amazing is when modern science supports something a 2,000-year-old text has been saying. Paul, in the book of Romans chapter 12, teaches that thinking in the way of Jesus Christ, the way of hope and love, can “renew” your mind. Now we know objectively and scientifically that this is true!

So, this holiday season when you are sitting around the table with friends and family,  take a moment to think and talk with gratitude. Try this question, “What are you most grateful for and why are you grateful for it?” The greatest gift you give your family may end up being a way of thinking.

Maybe try this New Year’s resolution: Every morning take a moment to write out two or three things you are grateful for in a notebook.

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