Thinking about good things and being grateful actually alters your mood for the better

Counting one’s blessings is as old as civilization, but leave it to researchers to put a 21st-century spin on why the practice is so important for us. Gratitude can not only decrease stress, it can actually make you happy.

Neuroscience researcher Alex Korb has demonstrated that feelings of gratitude activate the regions in the brain associated with the release of the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine. Korb also says when these hormones are produced, the brain looks for more things to be grateful for.

If this sounds like wishful thinking, Marianne Gareau, a Vancouver-based registered psychologist, insists she has seen the positive benefits of being thankful first hand.

“Persuading clients to focus on what is good in their lives rather than the bad is a major part of my practice,” she says. “After a while it can become a habit, and from there it’s a case of the old truism, 'where attention goes, energy flows,' meaning, thinking about good things and being grateful actually alters your mood for the better.”

Gareau acknowledges that adopting this mindset can be challenging, given the relentless media bombardment of negative sentiment and messages.

“And anthropologically speaking, the human brain is inclined toward negative thought because it’s part of our survival mechanism,” she says.

It takes some effort to adopt a different outlook. “It’s not a matter of blocking negative thoughts but identifying what is going right in your life,” says Gareau. “Try devoting several minutes per day reviewing the things you should be grateful for: before long, the good thoughts will outweigh the bad.”