Emotional health, Studies, Teaching, z347
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How gratitude rewires your brain


In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul writes that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).

The Greek word translated ‘transformed’, metamorphoō, speaks of an utter and complete change. It is where we get the English word metamorphosis, which describes the process when a caterpillar builds a cocoon, dissolves, and reforms into a butterfly.

The change is so dramatic that the butterfly can no longer eat the same thing that it did when it lived as a caterpillar.

But for the believer, Paul adds that this transformation takes place as we ‘renew’ our minds. Paul uses the same Greek word, anakainoo, when he writes that we are ‘renewed in the spirit of our mind’ (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Anakainoo means to ‘make new,’ ‘make different,’ ‘to renovate’ and refers to a dramatic change, and it’s this change in thinking that transforms us.

But when Paul speaks of the spirit of our mind, he is speaking about what controls and directs our thinking. Some Bible versions, such as the NIV, translated the Greek word, ‘pneuma’ (spirit), as attitude.

And one of those attitudes that we need to start incorporating is thankfulness.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, the Apostle Paul writes that we are to be thankful in all things.

He doesn’t say that we are to be thankful for all things, because we can face heartbreaking situations, but in the midst of these difficult times, we should focus on things that we can be thankful for.

And recent studies are showing that developing a spirit of thankfulness can rewire our brain.

In a study published on ScienceDirect, British psychologist Christian Jarrett found that developing a spirit of thankfulness actually changes our thinking patterns.

The study involved over 40 people who were experiencing problems with depression and anxiety and were seeking professional help.

In this study, Jarrett had everyone continue their therapy, but half the group were asked to regularly write letters expressing their gratitude to people before going to their counseling sessions.

Three months later, Jarrett and his team performed MRI scans of the two groups as they were performing a generosity task:

“The participants who’d completed the gratitude task months earlier not only reported feeling more gratefulness two weeks after the task than members of the control group, but also, months later, showed more gratitude-related brain activity in the scanner. The researchers described these ‘profound’ and ‘long-lasting’ neural effects as ‘particularly noteworthy’ ….

[This suggests] that the more practice you give your brain at feeling and expressing gratitude, the more it adapts to this mind-set…. a sort of gratitude ‘muscle’ that can be exercised and strengthened.”  

In other words, a spirit of thankfulness can rewire your mind in just three months.

This is just one of the ways that the believer’s mind needs to be renewed. Other renewals include embracing (believing) who we are in Christ.

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:17 NIV)

READ: Gratitude Rewires Your Brain AND The effects of gratitude expression on neural activity

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