Give Thanks and Boost Brain Cells

At any age, showing appreciation can improve your life

Ron Wayne


Thank you cards are just 99 cents at Trader Joe’s and another way to express appreciation. Photos by R. Wayne

Expressing gratitude is important for your mental health, scientists and others say. But finding reasons to be thankful seems harder when you have more years behind you than ahead.

You’re likely dealing with health problems, ranging from the pains of aging bones to something more serious. Your friends from high school are dying. Wasn’t it just yesterday we were tooling around town in my Dad’s station wagon? Your favorite actors and singers are passing away every other week. Your kids live elsewhere, and you don’t see or hear from them as often as you might like. You reminisce about the great years in your career and as a young father. But you also worry about the future. What will happen to my Social Security? Why is it a political football?

Feeling and expressing gratitude puts you in the moment because you need to consider all that’s right about your life right now.

This article does a deep dive into how feeling gratitude can make big changes in your brain to improve your life. Here are the ways:

  1. A surge of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in many vital functions, including pleasure, reward, motivation, attention, and bodily movements.
  2. Increased serotonin, which is often called the happiness chemical because it contributes to feelings of well-being, stabilizes our mood, and helps us feel more relaxed.
  3. Greater activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the human brain linked to learning and making decisions.

The article goes on to tell us that although 90 percent of Americans say they feel grateful for their families, only 52 percent of women and 44 percent of men regularly express gratitude.

It lists ways you can cultivate and increase your daily gratitude. One I’ve done for a long time is to list what I’m thankful for each night when I write in my journal. I would like to add the practice of sending thank-you cards to people who have done something for you at any time.

This was a practice in my family that my children learned early on, thanks to their mother. I think it helped them to understand connections to others and why we are of value to each other. I fully embraced the idea and have often made it a point to express appreciation on my own. Of course, today it’s done primarily via email or social media, but buying and sending cards via the USPS seems more personal. I am among those who still send cards at Christmas, as I wrote about last December on this personal finance website.

The only reason I shouldn’t be sending cards is because my penmanship is worse than ever, but I just print carefully!

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Ron Wayne

Award-winning newspaper columnist now writing for the personal finance website HumbleDollar and for my own publication here, Cheap Old Peeps.