The simplicity of gratitude cannot be overstated in that it is one of the precious principles that will feed your soul and lighten your load as you navigate your path. The simplicity of gratitude cannot be overstated in that it is one of the precious principles that will feed your soul and lighten your load. One of the main features of gratitude is that it can help you feel more connected, relaxed and optimistic. There is a song that opens with a phrase something like this: “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep…I fall asleep counting my blessings.” Written by Ray Wylie Hubbard, it’s been sung by many artists over the years and it is revered as a sure-fire way to bring you out of the dumps and into a space of gratitude and appreciation.
Of course, Ray Wylie Hubbard’s iconic lyrics are not the only wildly popular ones that celebrate the power of gratitude. There have been scores if not hundreds over time. This approach to dealing with adversity works quite well. Another thing that happens when you express gratitude is neurotransmitters and brain chemicals are released like dopamine, beta endorphins and the love drug oxytocin. All of these cause you to experience greater well-being, higher self-esteem and a general sense that everything is going to be OK despite the issues at play in that moment.
The other pathway right next to the ventral vegal nerve is the dorsal vegal nerve. It is the “slam-on-the-brake” part of your parasympathetic nervous system. It becomes activated when you are in an imaginary or real grave danger and it shuts the system down like a “deer-in-the-headlights.” Traumatic events can cause an immediate purge of your digestive system, as in urination and defecation, along with dissociation (quite often associated with sexual abuse) and depersonalization (often connected with severe stress and anxiety) all stemming from the activation of the dorsal vegus nerve. Heartfelt gratitude can activate the ventral vegus nerve, counteracting the trauma response and initiating a calm all over your body which promotes a greater sense of social safety.
Melody Beattie wrote in her book, Codependence No More, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
Dr Woody Johnson can be contacted on this link: Dr Woody Johnson