How to Rewire Your Brain to Run on Gratitude

It’s far, far too easy to forget the forest for the trees in our modern lives. If you feel constantly weighed down by the darker aspects of your life, you could be forgiven for feeling as though simply “being more thankful” is no more effective a proposal for changing things than just wishing for your troubles to go away.

Despite what you may feel now, the truth is that science has shown us that gratitude can have a real, transformative impact on our lives, affecting the way we see the world, and by extension, the way we interact with it.

Below, we’ll take a look at why exactly this mentality can be so powerful for us. From there, we’ll explore some specific methods that you can use to reprogram your own mind be to be more receptive to gratitude.

Why Living Based on Gratitude Can Be So Life-Changing (And So Difficult)

Gratitude has the unique and powerful ability to make you a happier person. And not just the fleeting, temporary, “look at my shiny new car” kind of happier, either; we’re talking about the kind of happiness that you feel in the core of your being.

It’s this kind of foundational sense of well-being that so many seem to constantly strive for, and yet, it feels as though we have an incredibly hard time finding it – and don’t even get us started on keeping it around for the long-haul.

As you may have already realized (after all, we’re all relative authorities in the field of “being alive”), living through the rose-tinted lenses of gratitude isn’t exactly the default mode for many of us. That’s because we all struggle with an unfortunate negativity bias, making it much easier to remember the bad parts of our day than the truly good parts.

Why is this? The answer may be more practical than you think. In short, it’s a self-preservation instinct, the function of a time when humans were hunter-gatherers, always at risk and need to constantly scan for threats in our environment. The problem is, we don’t live that way anymore, and in modern times, our brains have taken to applying this technique in ways that can create a negative feedback loop if we aren’t careful.

Over time, this can build toward an inaccurate mental picture of our own reality, reinforcing the belief that things are far more hopeless than they really are.

The silver lining here, however, is that we all have the power to break this cycle, replacing these negative thought patterns with those built on optimism, joy, and gratefulness. Doing so is no simple task, though. You have to intentionally decide to put in the effort necessary to slowly reframe your mind around these concepts, and it’s something that comes easier for some than others.

Still, if you manage to follow through with even a few of these consistently, you will be amazed at exactly how far they can take you in terms of your own emotional development. Let’s dive in:

Seven Ways to Rewire Your Brain to Run on Gratitude

1. Spend a Few Moments Every Day to Practice Simply “Being”

This is one of the most foundational gratitude-enhancing practices out there, and yet, it’s also one of the most challenging to explain (and implement). In short, the idea here is that when you really pause and take a moment to behold everything that is around you–the subtle changes to the trees in the fall, the scent of the coffee brewing in the kitchen–you begin to notice just how amazing all of it is.

We live in a world brimming with wonder, beauty, and color, and yet all-too-often it can feel as though we have “big picture blinders” on, forever focused on the minutia of our daily trials and tribulations while rarely giving ourselves a moment to simply exist without expectation. By doing so intentionally, you will begin to see through the cracks in your own negative modes of thinking, allowing you to expand your perspective in a truly constructive, uplifting way.

2. Be Mindful of the Things Others Do for You

Think for a moment about the events surrounding the past week of your life. Chances are, you’ve interacted with dozens of people who have done you a kindness, even if you don’t initially think so. Obviously, a love-affirming phone call from mom is an easy one to pick out, but what about the person who held the door for you at the gas station when you were running late for that all-important meeting?

These small experiences are actually anything but; they add up, building slowly upon the larger mosaic of human kindness and cooperation that pushes us forward as a species. Recognizing and viewing these interactions in this way will help to build your appreciation for the nuances of life, and seeing as those are the moments that make up each and every day, it certainly seems like a worthy undertaking.

3. Always Look for Opportunities to Do Something Kind

Expanding on the concepts explored above, becoming aware of daily opportunities to serve others is another powerful tool in your arsenal that you can use to gravitate towards gratitude. Even if those you deliver kindness to do not react in an appreciative way, your actions may have an unseen impact that only becomes apparent later on. And ultimately, even if it doesn’t, the benefits for your own life will be more than enough to justify your actions.

Looking for practical examples of this in action? Try paying for the person behind you in the drive-through or at the coffee shop. Have a friend doing something particularly awesome? Shout them out on social media, or steer the conversation towards said thing when everyone is hanging out. Constantly searching for the best in others will not only make them more appreciative of you, it will help to program your brain to see the best in everything else, yourself included. 

4. Try and Surround Yourself with Supportive Individuals

Who we’re surrounded by in our larger communities can actually shape who we become as individuals, and much of the same can be said for the smaller group of people we interact with on a more regular basis. This is obviously an incredibly complicated issue for some, as we may be tied to friends or family who doesn’t actually exhibit the most supportive behaviors on a regular basis.

All the same, trying to continually build and expand your network of relationships to include more positive, uplifting individuals can be transformative for your own happiness, as it can provide a sturdy support network to lean on when things feel uncertain.

5. Reframe Negative Situations

No matter how much you seek the good in life, there will always be bad moments. The next time that you find yourself amidst a season of particularly negative experiences, take time to challenge the way you are processing them internally. Yes, these are trying times, but there is always good to be found, even in the darkest of situations, and gratitude can provide insight into where you should start your search.

Instead of keeping your mind sharply attuned to the painful, worry-filled experiences, try resetting your emotional barometer and focusing instead of the unnoticed positives of a given situation. If you’re feeling stressed out about work, for instance, remind yourself of what it took to get where you are, and how grateful you are now to have grown during the challenges of your past.

From this vantage point, you’re only a stone’s throw away from arriving at a new, healthier conclusion; your past struggles built you into what you are today, and the same will hold true for the ones you face currently (even if they feel unsurmountable in the moment).

6. Keep Yourself Busy (With Things You Actually Care About)

The phrase “the devil finds work for idle hands” can also be applied to negative thinking; idleness paves the way for overly analytical thinking, insecurity, and a whole host of other not-so-fun emotions.

If you can’t think of something you care enough about to dedicate a serious amount of time to, choose your health. Self-appreciation is powerful, and taking time to eat better, workout more regularly, and develop your individual skillsets can only lead to exciting and rewarding new opportunities.

Related: How Walking 30 Minutes a Day Can Benefit Your Health in a Big Way

7. Practice Mindful Meditation

Mindfulness meditation has been shown to physically alter the structure of our brains in as little as eight weeks. Think about that and let it set in for a moment; with just a few moments of being present with yourself at night or in the morning, you can make measurable changes in the brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.

This could potentially be extra-effective when followed up with a moment of gratitude-fueled reflection. Even the simple act of writing down (or saying aloud) three things that you are grateful for every morning after waking and every evening before bed is enough to have a positive impact on your mental state, clearly illustrating the kind of tangible power that gratefulness holds.

The Bottom Line: No Shortcuts to Happiness

Programming your brain to run on gratitude won’t make all of your troubles go away, nor will it make your life a blissful, carefree dream. All the same, what It can do is give you invaluable insight into what really matters in your life, while simultaneously providing you the tools to grow even further as a friend, lover, entrepreneur, son, daughter, or whatever else you happen to be.

For more information, be sure to check out our other content on the topic:

Tyler Cooper

Tyler Cooper is a journalist with a keen interest in personal health, experiential travel and self-improvement. Tyler draws on his experience in the travel and wellness industries to report on products, concepts and initiatives that aim to make the world a better place to live.