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Expert Psychologist Niamh Hannon On Your Brain And Gratitude
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- mins read

Expert Psychologist Niamh Hannon On Your Brain And Gratitude

Beth Allison
Beth Allison
Program & Content Creator
Haelee Reis
Haelee Reis
Head of Marketing and Program
Beth Allison

Happiness can’t be bought, but it can me made!

We’re often told we can’t buy happiness, but studies have shown that we can actually make it. If you want to be a happier person, one of the most powerful tools is your own routine thinking. 

“Gratitude, the process, is all about focussing on what’s right and what you have in your life,” says chartered psychologist Niamh Hannon. “And bringing up that feeling of appreciation or thankfulness.”

It turns out that actively tuning into what you appreciate activates your brain’s positive emotion centers. 

The science behind gratitude 

“Often I think when I speak about gratitude, people think it’s an airy-fairy, out-there thing, but actually it’s very grounded in a lot of research,” Hannan explains. 

“Your brain is the organ that is designed to learn. It’s designed to learn by experience. We’re having stuff coming in and filtering in all day, thousands and thousands of different thoughts come at us everyday. Most of that stuff kind of bounces off like ripples in a river. It bounces off, doesn't make any impact on the river.”

This is why occasionally noticing something you’re thankful for won’t create real change. To grow happiness, we need to train our brains. “When we repeat something – if we’re consistently repeating something or practicing something – then that starts to make an impact on your brain, and may even change the course of the river,” Hannan explains. In fact, apart from (typically rare) exceptionally impactful experiences, routine is the only route to change in the brain.

How to rewire your brain for gratitude 

So what does that look like? Hannan recommends committing to a short, simple routine; consistency is key. Try listing three good things from the day to yourself as part of your bedtime routine. For even more impact, try writing a short note in a gratitude journal at the same time each day or challenge yourself with the 10 Finger Gratitude Exercise: Count your blessings on your digits.

And while it’s the powerful source of thoughts and reasoning, your noodle is also a bodily organ subject to the same influences as everything else in your makeup. That means how you look after yourself and how your systems are functioning actually impacts your emotions and where your brain is fueled.

“Your brain uses 20-25% of your fuel, so what you’re eating every day,” Hannan says. 

“When you activate a particular part of your brain, you’re sending blood flow in that direction and that blood flow carries with it glucose and oxygen, so you’re literally feeding the parts of the brain that you’re using.”

Make happiness your long-term DIY project

“The main takeaway here is that happiness can be a long term DIY project” says Hannan.

“At any moment, we can choose to be happy, and [gratitude] practices can help that certainly mindfulness can help you to be happy. It’s a whole practice,” she says. 

“Things that we do on a daily basis. It wouldn’t matter if you did an hour of meditation on a Sunday. You’d actually benefit more from doing 10 minutes every day, even just three minutes every night. It’s that kind of drip-drip-drip effect that impacts us over time. It’s not going to suddenly make us feel over-the-moon. It’s not a magic wand. But you’re building on your happiness and wellbeing over time.”

So…what are you grateful for?

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