“I’m Grateful for My Soup I Will Not Eat!”
Sitting down at the dinner table last night, my daughter said “I am grateful for my water, my milk, my spoon, my green stuff, my soup that I am not going to eat, and my bread.” Little did she know that in addition to making my wife and me bust up laughing, she was also rewiring her brain to be a more grateful brain.
Neuroplasticity is your brain’s ability to change itself, and it can happen in just a few weeks. But when I was studying Cognitive Science in college, I was essentially told we are born with all the brain cells we will ever have. I was taught that basically our brains stop changing when we are young and we lose neurons and connections throughout our lives.
The news from neuroscientists is much better these days. We have learned that brains change throughout our lifetimes. We add neurons and connections with everything we do intensely and repeatedly enough. Many scientific studies have shown observable brain changes in a matter of weeks. Several studies found changes after 12, 8, or 4 weeks, and a study by Rüdiger Ilg and others found an increase of neurons after 15 minutes of practice for 2 weeks! The way neuroscientists often put this is “the neurons that fire together, wire together.”
For your brain to physically change, you need to do something:
· Intensely—focused concentration is required
· Repeatedly—every day is great
· Rewardingly—you need to feel positive effects
If you focus repeatedly on something that matters to you and feels good, your brain will rewire itself to do that more effortlessly in the future.
Feeling and expressing gratitude is one of the easiest ways to become happier. In his book Thanks!: How the NewScience of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Dr. Robert A. Emmons describes how study participants felt 25% happier after 10 weeks of regularly expressing gratitude.
My suggestion is to turn Thanksgiving Day into Thanksgiving month.