Gratitude: More Than Just an Attitude

It’s November and Thanksgiving is upon us, which means, if you’re on social media, you’re likely seeing a lot of gratitude posts already. This year there is even a gratitude challenge that specifies a specific category in which you must post about what you’re grateful, down to texture and smells! What??! Okay, maybe it’s not so hard, I must admit I’m grateful for the soft, wiry hair of my dog Harley as he snuggles against my feet as I type, and for the smell of my daughters freshly-washed hair as she cuddled up in the crook of my arm as I put her to sleep. Wait! IT’S HAPPENING…I’m one of them, posting things I’m grateful for on the internet, and I have to admit, IT FEELS GREAT!

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As it turns out, practicing gratitude is actually really, really good for us as humans! One reason is that practicing gratitude actually has the capacity to change and strengthen our BRAINS in positive ways! How on earth does that work? Well, apparently when the brain feels gratitude, parts of the brain that are involved in feelings of reward, interpersonal bonding, and positive social interactions, like the ventral and dorsal medial prefrontal cortex are activated. In addition to that, important neurochemicals are increased by gratitude. When your thinking shifts to positive from negative, you’ll have a surge of those feel-good chemicals like oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. And what happens next? Feelings of happiness, connection, and closeness? Count me in! 

What also turns out to be important is CONSISTENCY, so maybe those 30-days of gratitude posters are on the right track! The more that one practices gratitude, the more the brain will tune in to those positive things in the world. Let’s face it, 2020 has been a TOUGH year, and we have all had enough negative in our lives, so a return to the positive through gratitude may be just what we need, teaching our brain to focus more time on those things that make us feel GOOD, versus focusing on the things that weigh us down. 

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Our brains are actually primed to find the negatives, so we have to teach it not only to tune into the positive, but we also have to hold on to the positive things for long enough for it to actually have an effect on the way our brains work. Dr. Rick Hanson, a psychologist, has found that focusing on an experience for 20 seconds is long enough for positive structural changes to occur in the brain. Having gratitude gives the opportunity for the positive experience to expand, so we can “re-experience” it, rather than just moving on quickly from it. 

I wanted to learn more, so I naturally wanted to see what one of my favorite research professors, Brené Brown, had to say on the subject. And as it turns out, she has a LOT to say. Brown says, “The relationship between joy and gratitude was one of the important things I found in my research. I wasn’t expecting it. In my 12 years of research on 11,000 pieces of data, I did not interview one person who had described themselves as joyful, who also did not actively practice gratitude. For me it was very counterintuitive because I went into the research thinking that the relationship between joy and gratitude was: if you are joyful, you should be grateful. But it wasn’t that way at all.” 

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Brown says that actually practicing gratitude ends up inviting joy into our lives. “It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.” Not just “the-attitude-of-gratitude” or feeling grateful…Brown emphasizes that this is insufficient to cultivate joy unless it translates to a BEHAVIOR.  It means actually PRACTICING gratitude. So beyond those 30-days once-a-year social media posts, what can we do to invite the practice of gratitude and the subsequent joy that follows into our lives? She says it’s about a tangible gratitude practice. That could be a gratitude journal, it could be picking a time every day to say something out loud that you are grateful for in your life, or even going around the table nightly and taking turns expressing something that makes you feel grateful. 

There are lots of different ways to practice gratitude, but it should be done not only with consistency, but with novelty as well. Our brains LOVE novelty, and quickly adapt to anything that stays the same. Ever had something bring you joy but quickly lose its shimmer? Our brains adapt, and then they go looking for the next special thing, but gratitude can change this. We need to constantly give our brains something new and positive to focus on, practicing gratitude for different things, and not the same thing day after day. We can be grateful for the same things every day, but it won’t have the same effect on the brain as it will if we find a new and positive thing each time! 

Need some more convincing? Research has shown that gratitude has the ability to increase resilience, improve our general well-being, strengthen our social relationships, and reduce stress and depression. On top of that, we’ll have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, and be able to sleep and wake with more ease. Gratitude leads to being more alert, more generous, more compassionate, and just being happier. And who among us doesn’t want to have a greater capacity for joy and positive emotions? Especially in 2020!

So I’ll start, and maybe you’ll join me in the comments…I’m grateful for all of you readers, who have taken a moment out of your day to visit the I-ASC website and read this blog, and while you’re here, if you’re new to the site, I hope you’ll take the time to read and learn something about nonspeakers. I’m truly grateful for them. 


S2C, Spelling to Communicate, I-ASC, Autism, nonspeakersKelly Berg is an S2C Practitioner at Growing Kids Therapy Center and a member of the I-ASC Leadership Cadre living in Herndon, Virginia. She can always find something to be grateful for, and has a long list of COVID silver linings. 

The mission of I-ASC is to advance communication access for nonspeaking individuals globally through trainingeducationadvocacy and research I-ASC supports all forms of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) with a focus on methods of spelling and typing. I-ASC currently offers Practitioner training in Spelling to Communicate (S2C)with the hope that other methods of AAC using spelling or typing will join our association

Posted By on Wednesday, November 18th, 2020 in Autism,Community,Education,Families,Motor,Nonspeakers,S2C,Spelling to Communicate

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