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Boosting the Brain with Thanks

November 23, 2018 by  
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Here’s a good question for you: Did you find yourself giving a lot of thanks yesterday? Or were you distracted by all the turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie? I hope you were taking time to give a ton of thanks! Isn’t that what we all should do on that day? After all it is called “Thanksgiving”! But that isn’t the only reason to give thanks this holiday season and throughout the year.

I recently heard on a broadcast that there is one big benefit we all can receive from saying “thanks” or “thank you”. Research into the human brain has shown that saying thank you, or otherwise giving verbal appreciation or gratitude, signals the brain to release the feel good, feel happy brain chemical dopamine.

Sometime ago, I wrote about how when a person smiles, even if it is a forced smile, the brain releases three of the four feel good brain chemicals – dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins (the forth brain chemical is oxytocin). These four chemicals, produced by the brain, not only make you feel more relaxed, they also could lower your blood pressure and your heart rate. Some studies even suggest that if they are released often enough, they can even help you live longer.

Another big benefit from giving thanks to others is that, if accompanied by a big sincere smile, your gesture will cause the other person to smile right back at you and then they are more likely to smile at the next person they encounter. So, you see, you are spreading some good stuff and helping others just by being thankful and letting other people know it.

And here’s another thing that has been shown to lift people’s spirits and that is simply to keep a journal in which you make note of the things you are thankful for. By writing down what, and who, you are grateful for, you are giving your brain more determination. This helps improve and lift your attention, enthusiasm and even lifts your energy.

So, during this holiday season, and beyond, we all need to focus on giving thanks, showing and expressing our gratitude, and, yes, even thinking about our positive qualities and of happy memories in order to boost our serotonin levels.

One last thought… don’t forget that laughing and social interaction both cause the brain to release those great feel good chemicals as well! So, this holiday season, be sure you have plenty of opportunities to boost those feel good chemicals and show your thanks and appreciation.

 

The Joy of Giving … to Strangers

December 9, 2011 by  
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I have a colleague whose family has done something rather remarkable to help get them out of that crazy holiday shopping rush and help others while they are at it. She has a big family so she had to shop for 21 immediate family members as well as her own children, husband, friends and co-workers. It was a huge chore for the whole family and eventually deteriorated into an exchange of impersonal gift cards. But one year they decided it had to change. The whole spirit of the holidays felt lost to them.

First thing they did was change it so each person only bought for one other person in the family. That way what was bought could be more unique and special. But the really cool thing was they reduced their spending on each other to a fraction of what it had been and took the rest of their budget and spent it on complete strangers. They have charities in most cities that arrange things so you can buy for an entire family who is too impoverished to afford a real holiday. So now my colleague’s family goes shopping for others, buying clothes, toys, and a grocery gift card so their ‘adopted’ family can have something to open Christmas day and enjoy a special holiday meal. It gives them all such a great feeling to be giving to those who could use the gifts so much more than them and the young people in the family get to really experience the giving nature of the season and have come to love it. I thought that was just super.

For those of us fortunate enough, the gifts we get this season will often be expected–obligatory, picked from a provided list, or bought with a random guess. And that’s because when we have so much to do and so many people on our gift lists we just don’t have the time to make it special for each and every person. It’s still the thought that counts but what if you could make a few of the gifts be so special that they will be remembered for years? What if we all took a little of our gift budget and gave it to people that don’t expect anything of us? It doesn’t have to be a whole family; it could just be one person. That widow that lives down the street, the new employee at work that hasn’t really gotten to know anyone yet, a lonely soul at a nursing home, children at an orphanage, or an old friend you haven’t contacted in years. Wouldn’t that be something?