Gratitude Magic: How Saying Thanks Can Boost Your Brain and Joy

Gratitude is more than just acknowledging the positive aspects of your life. When feelings of gratitude are genuine, it can change your brain and benefit your overall well-being. One of the leading scientists in the field of gratitude research is Dr. Robert Emmons who conducted a 10-week gratitude experiment in 2003. The study found that participants who focused on gratitude were 25% happier and more optimistic about their future than those who didn’t. Moreover, those with a grateful mindset engaged in nearly 1.5 hours more exercise weekly than the other participants.

Expressing Gratitude Changes the Brain

A study published in the journal NeuroImage found that expressing gratitude leads to longer-term effects on brain activity. Subjects entering psychotherapy for depression and/or anxiety were divided into two groups. One group engaged in therapy as usual, while the other group participated in gratitude writing as an intervention. The researchers discovered that writing letters expressing gratitude was associated with “significantly greater and lasting neural sensitivity to gratitude.” This means that the more one writes about gratitude, the more gratitude they feel, thus resulting in “significantly greater neural modulation by gratitude in the medial prefrontal cortex three months later.”

Use a Gratitude Journal for Maximum Impact

Dr. Emmons’ research suggests that keeping a daily gratitude journal can lead to significant positive changes. Compared to those who only kept a general diary or journal, individuals who maintained a daily gratitude journal reported:

  • Exercising more regularly
  • Reporting fewer physical symptoms
  • Feeling better about their lives as a whole
  • Being more optimistic about the upcoming week
  • Being more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals
  • Experiencing elevated positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness

Furthermore, people who kept a gratitude journal were more likely to help someone with a personal problem or offer emotional support to another.

All these improvements in well-being stemmed from changes in neural brain networks associated with dopamine and serotonin, without medication or years of therapy. The simple act of writing down what you are grateful for can change your life.

How to Start a Gratitude Journal

You don’t need a specific type of notebook or diary to write your thoughts of gratitude. The key is to start expressing your gratitude daily and ensure to make it a habit. Pay attention to even the smallest things you’re grateful for, as they can lead to positive changes.

One way to begin is by using a gratitude journal called My Gratitude Journal. This journal provides six different “gratitude icons” to help you think about various ways in which you can find gratitude in your daily life. It also encourages you to record “what you are grateful for” each day for a three-year period.


The act of expressing gratitude, be it through writing letters or maintaining a gratitude journal, has lasting positive effects on your brain and overall well-being. Not only does it help improve your mental health, but it also influences your physical health by encouraging regular exercise and reducing physical symptoms. Make it a daily habit, and you may be surprised at the remarkable positive results you’ll experience.