By: Brenda Reiss

Hello, my name is Brenda Reiss and I’m a forgiveness coach.  I’m also an alumnus of Residence XII and celebrated 15 years of sobriety last August for which I am forever grateful.

Did you know that gratitude has the power to change your brain by reshaping your neural pathways?  And that if you practice gratitude regularly you can be healthier and happier?  No joke.  It’s quite impressive what this state of being can provide for us.

Some of the benefits of a regular gratitude practice are:

  • Creates greater optimism
  • Improves our physical & psychological health
  • Enhances empathy & reduces aggression
  • Improves self-esteem
  • Increases mental strength
  • Better sleep
  • Less depression

It was this last one that I have noticed a huge difference in my life.  Like a lot of us, I suffered from depression after getting sober and the one thing that was emphasized for me to do was a gratitude list.  I didn’t understand why it was so important but now I do.

When I got sober, my home group was a woman’s meeting and that’s where I found my sponsor.  My sponsor let me know that she added me to an email gratitude list and that I needed to write a list of 10 things I was grateful for every day and send it to this list.

You can imagine that I didn’t quite jump for joy at being told to do such a thing even though I was grateful to be sober.  However, it changed my life. And today, I am still a part of this gratitude list.

This gratitude practice really saved me as I was going through my divorce and some tough family situations.  It helped me focus on the “gift” in the situation.

It has been found that feelings of gratitude directly activate brain regions associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is that “feel good” neurotransmitter.  It is important in the initiation of action which means that with increased dopamine, you are more likely to do the thing you just did.

What this does is engage your brain into a healthy cycle.  Your brain only has so much power to focus its attention. It cannot easily focus on both positive and negative stimuli at the same time.

It is like a small child: easily distracted.

But, once you start seeing things to be grateful for, your brain starts looking for more things to be grateful for. That’s how the healthy cycle gets created.

Now, it’s not always easy to remember to be grateful, particularly since the human brain is so adaptable. We easily get used to the comforts in our life.

Like I don’t always sing praises for my car starting or having water to drink.  And I get impatient when the microwave takes too long.

Gratitude takes practice like any other skill.

Here are some suggestions to start a practice or add to one:

  • A gratitude journal – list 5 things morning and night that you are grateful for
  • Tell someone how much you appreciate them…it feels good for both parties
  • Smile more often…it’s hard to be sad when we truly smile
  • Say thank you even for the harder “lessons” or “growth opportunities” in life
  • Notice the beauty around you every day

In love and light,

Brenda Reiss

Certified Radical Forgiveness Coach