Tips For A Healthy Mind
By Stacy Pellettieri, LCSW-R
“It is not happy people who are thankful;
It is thankful people who are happy.”
I’m not really sure who it was that came up with this inspirational quote but it’s hanging on canvas on my wall right next to my front door so I know someone did! Why my front door? So everyday before we leave the house we are reminded to be thankful.
I know that the idea that gratitude can lead to happiness is often met with skepticism. I regularly hear people say to me, “Oh, so I just think about good things and suddenly I’m not depressed anymore?” Kind of like that, yes! I wouldn’t say the transition from depressed to happy would be “sudden,” actually it would be more of a gradual transition, but a real transition nonetheless.
You can argue with me all you want, but there’s a science to this theory. You see, the brain is full of chemicals. And yes these chemicals determine mood. The neurotransmitters in our brain are constantly firing off different levels of serotonin, dopamine and endorphins.
Serotonin is the chemical of mental relaxation. Too little serotonin is known to cause anxiety, agitation and depression. Dopamine is the “reward hormone” in the brain. Rewarding activities, such as winning a race, getting a good grade on a hard test, and alleviating thirst and hunger, release dopamine in the brain.
Endorphins are released to alleviate pain. If you were to burn yourself, endorphins would be released into the body to alleviate the pain. This is why endorphins are released during exercise. If you’ve ever heard that exercise is good for anxiety and stress that’s why! Endorphins are like taking a pain reliever and despair is pain, therefore releasing endorphins alleviates the pain of sadness as well. When dopamine is released in the brain it enhances happiness associated with the feeling of getting a reward. Releasing serotonin gives us a calm, peaceful feeling that enhances happiness.
So, what if we could actually control the release of these chemicals in our brains with our own thoughts? Well, guess what? Yup! We can!