Tracy Winchell

Gratitude Literally Shifts Your Brain's Structure

published4 months ago
2 min read

Hey Reader!

Does your brain rebel when you're learning something new? Mine sure does.

New things become a battle of "I can't" and "Tracy, keep going until you can!"

Gratitude can turn down the volume on the "can't" side of your brain by creating neural pathways in your brain.

Let's get neuro-nerdy!


Eleven years ago, my life was unmanageable in the wake of my father's death. I was broke, and I built giant concrete walls to keep out the people who loved me and wanted to support me.

When I half-heartedly committed to a 30-day gratitude challenge with a friend, I expected nothing. Still, I continued the challenge through December.

One morning, a co-worker shocked me as I walked into our suite toward my office.

She said, "You're not complaining as soon as you walk in the door! What's up?" I was shocked. Indeed it wasn't the gratitude thing. I didn't even take the challenge seriously.

Months of research led me to the neuroscience of gratitude.

Today, I'm using gratitude to boost my self-esteem. Research has determined that when you're more grateful, you will improve how you feel about yourself.

Gratitude can also help change the way you judge yourself ā€“ people who feel more gratitude are less likely to compare themselves to other people.ā€‹
ā€‹Dispositional Gratitude and Social Comparison, Caroline Winata Esther Widhi Andangsari

An awareness of the good in your life is a forcing function for helpful, kind, and supportive people.

Once you see others investing in you, it's a few paces from reprogramming your brain to say, "My friend Stinky thinks highly of me. I guess it's safe for me to believe them."

Let's get neuro-nerdy!


Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplashā€‹


Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measures teeny-tiny fluctuations in how blood flows through different parts of your brain.

Scientists have learned your brain on gratitude originates in the frontal lobes.

This is also where empathy, decision-making, and self-control reside. Leaning into gratitude causes your brain to produce and release dopamine and serotonin.

These two neurotransmitters are necessary to experience happiness and decrease cortisol levels that fuel anxiety and negative emotions.

Not only are you releasing "happy chemicals" in your brain when you experience gratitude, but you are also altering and rewiring your brain.

Neurology now lends credence to a wise grandmother's saying, "If you want to be happy, think happy thoughts."

One bit of caution: Don't go overboard on happy thoughts; otherwise, you will lose your ability to evaluate your thoughts and actions. Without these skills, you will never learn, grow, and turn failures into hard-fought wisdom.


Between now and next Wednesday, when you catch yourself stewing in your own negative emotion, think about one good thing that's happened this week, then write it down.

Write whatever first comes to mind.

  • Clean sheets on my bed.
  • I love my new goldfish.
  • I am getting a great big hug from my child.
  • The flavor of the food you're enjoying.
  • The human who showed me kindness, even when I was upset.

Even the tiniest moment of gratitude is worthy of this list because next week, we will zoom in on your reflections.

Next week, you will use your list to expound on that thing.


I've canceled the gratitude workshop for next Wednesday.

If you're interested in receiving gratitude-related prompts 3 to 4 times per week in November, please respond to this email. With enough interest, I'll put together the materials.


P.S. For the next few weeks, I'm surveying people who, like me, have a difficult time shushing "Mean Self-Critic."
ā€‹Interested in helping with this project?

ā€‹Schedule a time for a 10-minute chatā€‹