How Thankfulness Literally Changes Your Brain

Dr. Caroline Leaf is a Christian cognitive neuroscientist that has made discoveries that can literally change the composition of your brain and the quality of your life. In her book Who Shut Off My Brain? she explains how our thoughts and attitudes literally change the landscape of our brain.

She says that negative thoughts and negative interpretations of life events effect a chemical reaction in the brain. It is as thought chemical branches are formed that look for pathways to other negative thoughts. As they become connected they become strengthened and they contribute towards negative patterns of thinking. Fortunately, the opposite is true as well. When you choose to have a positive thought or interpret an event in a positive way you are setting off a similar chemical reaction in your brain. However, in this case, you are forming positive connections in the landscape of the brain.

This has implications on many levels of life, such as:

  • controlling your thought life
  • managing stress
  • eradicating toxic thoughts
  • overcoming mental, emotional and spiritual strongholds
  • understanding how you can maximize learning

Of course, this is simply a confirmation of what the Bible says about the importance of thankfulness, praise, speaking encouraging words and choosing to focus your mind on things that are good. After reading Leaf’s book over a year ago I began to apply what I had learned by implementing ‘thankfulness journaling’ into my quiet times with God. I wanted to see a marked improvement in my levels of peace, joy and contentment in life that sometimes gets lost once we leave the carefree days of youth!

A few times a week I would simply list everything I could think of that I may be able to thank God for. It could be something as simple as having food, shelter and clothing. It could be something that I was grateful for in my family or a material blessing that I enjoyed. It could be an answer to prayer. At first my lists were quite short because my mind had to be trained to think in terms of constantly searching for the good in life. I would force myself to sit quietly for a long time and not let myself get off the hook when I could only think of a few things to be thankful for.

As time went on my lists got longer and longer! I began reporting to my wife how many I ‘got’ that day. I also started experimenting with different kinds of lists, such as:

  • what I am thankful for in my wife
  • ways I have seen God’s goodness in my lifetime
  • ways I have seen God turn a bad experience into something good

Over time, I have found that I am regaining an optimistic outlook on life. I am realizing how blessed I really am. I am more attuned to the goodness of God that is expressed in big and small ways in my life. Most of all, I am learning how to not grow up to be a grumpy old man!

Try re-wiring your brain through thankfulness journaling and let me know how it goes (robparkman [at] live [dot] ca).

Oh, and don’t forget to thank God for Mexican food!

Question: What are you thankful for? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Photo credit: lizstless / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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