Build Your “Gratitude Brain”

Brain Age NYT


Do you believe your brain has to decline with age?

Gratitude is the state of mind that opens us to expansiveness. It has only been a relatively short time ago that we believed that the brain was a fixed at a certain point on life, and that everyone’s brain declined with age.

Now we know that neurogenesis, the growth of new neurons in the marrow of our bones, make their way to our brains for distribution exactly where they’re needed. This process of cellular renewal goes on until you die.

If we think about the nature of gratitude and the nature of the way it opens us to perceive, puts us in a state of safety, and allows the parasympathetic nervous system of the body to remain in homeostasis to repair and strengthen the body, gratitude is enough to bring us to our knees. Then we when we look around us and give our cells permission to receive, to be open, to see, to smell and to appreciate goodness,  we resonate in a way that allows us to have a sense of wholeness and oneness, that is unifying and restorative.

Every single challenge will give me the opportunity of identifying something good in it, and I can find what I like in every person rather than what rubs me the wrong way. That rub may be surely be there, if I choose to make it my focus. And even if I do focus on the “rub” I can know that I am really only focusing on something in myself that is not whole, that needs a look that will end in deeper self-acceptance, if I choose to do the work to realize that what rubs me in another is something I reject in myself.

Good Seen

This thinking really is a new kind of meditation, because its focus is gratitude. Gratitude is where it begins. It does not begin with love or hope. It begins with gratitude, because gratitude is the apprehension of what is good right now. Start the mind in the track of what is good right now, what is to be enjoyed, and that is the track you are likely to stay on.

Feeling gratitude increases blood flow in the brain. Increased ratios of blood flow to the left frontal lobe increase positive mood.

Gratitude is the emotional state that enables the most rapid transmission of positive emotions and the connectivity of positive brain neuropathways.

Gratitude is one of the lead strengths of the happiest people. When in doubt, go to gratitude. Whenever you have spare time, immerse yourself in gratitude. Whenever your brain is wandering, experience gratitude. When you’re in traffic, go to gratitude. When you hear a great song, go to gratitude. In fact, when you hear a lousy song, go to gratitude.

Gratitude is profound experience of healing and restoration.

© Dr. William K. Larkin 

About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin
  • Mary Garvey Horst

    I would like to start my post by talking about the image that accompanies this post. I am drawn by the contrast of the withering neuro-circuits as pictured by the brown, dying limbs with those of the green, flowering frontal area of the brain. I can just picture gratitude entering as a positive emotion into this person’s brain (or my brain) as it revitalizes the neurocircuitry. In addition, I am drawn to the line: “Gratitude is the state of mind that opens us to expansiveness.” I do believe this statement and am grateful for the daily gratitude practice of writing down three things each day for which I am grateful. I do this every night before I go to bed and my list has grown from three items into a daily review of all the things, people or places that I am grateful for that day. I love the idea that my brain looks like the one with the many green vines, foliage, and flowers. This is a very helpful metaphor!

  • Dr. gloria wright

    Dr. Larkin reminds us that “Gratitude is (a) profound experience of healing and restoration.” Cheap medicine, don’t you think? Feeling gratitude increases blood flow in the brain and enhances neurogenesis, the growth neurons that are in the marrow of our bones.
    What wonderful news that science is showing us that the brain doesn’t “have to” decline with age, that indeed it can even grow until death. And we can aid this miraculous process!
    Focusing on and becoming intentional about feeling gratitude and looking for gratitude, opens us up to positive perceptions, “puts us in a state of safety, and allows the parasympathetic nervous system of the body to remain in homeostasis to repair and strengthen the body,” according to Dr. Larkin.
    Dr. Jill Taylor, author of My Stroke of Insight, talks of saying thank you and being grateful to her cells as she continues to heal from her tragic stroke. Sounds so simples, but perhaps profound, that our cells might joyfully respond to our gratitude. Surely couldn’t hurt. We do take so much for granted.
    So what if, just today (and maybe beyond), we look for the best in others, ourselves and our world? What if we focus on what we are grateful for, even in the form of an affirmation, and feel gratitude! What if thinking positive thoughts, feeling positive feelings and believing positive beliefs becomes a way of life?! And may it be so!

  • James

    This week’s reading Growing
    the Positive Mind opened up some new perspectives for me. Specifically, the
    idea that thinking critically using your strengths is more powerful than
    pessimism and that as the brain ages one’s brain changes to grasp the bigger, broader
    perspective thus eliminating short-term memory that is less important.

    As a former graduate student, I was trained in these
    higher-level courses to examine critically the thoughts and ideas of my
    classmates in group discussions and blog posts. In fact, part of my grade
    depended on my ability to challenge the thoughts and ideas of other classmates.
    As I take in the information from this week’s reading, I realize that my brain
    is nine times more likely to find the flaws in another’s work, rather than
    focus on the elements of that classmates’ research that is founded on solid
    research and reasoning. In fact, I found myself questioning what research that
    statistic is based on.

    Additionally, I’ve seen this focus on the negative happen in
    my working relationships, both in myself and in others. As other would present
    their work in meetings, I’d be pessimistically thinking through all of the
    flaws in logic that the speaker is making as he gives his speech. Additionally,
    I found that as I reflected on group meetings where I presented, others
    frequently offered up challenges to my presentation versus information that was
    beneficial to them or to the company. I can see how by activating the positive
    mind and emphasizing strengths can lift the workplace culture up to a new level
    of productivity and create a dynamic team synergy.

    Finally, as a youngster I was incredibly good at memory
    games of all kinds and as I matured and grew older, I could never make sense of
    why I could no longer recall information the way that I used to. As I reflected
    on the research presented in this week’s video presentation and book reading,
    it was great to hear that my brain is focusing on more important items than
    meaningless pictures in a game. As the neuroplasticity continues to change my
    brain in the coming years, I get excited about grasping more of the big picture
    and become wiser.

    Bottom-line, I really appreciate the fact that we can choose
    our thoughts and we can choose our emotions, therefore making us each live
    lives of victory versus victimhood.

Copyright © 2015 The Applied Neuroscience Institute