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Thanks for being… thankful!

Thanks for being… thankful!

“The more we express gratitude, the better we feel”: okay, but what does this sentence really mean to us?

What Is “Gratitude”?

The word “gratitude” has a number of different meanings, depending on the context. A practical clinical definition is the following:

Gratitude is the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself; it is a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation.

In other words, gratitude can be for virtually anything we (as subjective entities) realize has (or potentially has) a positive impact on ourselves. Gratitude has effects on our mood and our general well-being; it is a precursor of what is commonly called “happiness.”

3 Steps to Gratitude

Mr. Robert A. Emmons,[1] perhaps the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, argues that gratitude has 2 main key components, which I am here splitting into 3 steps. The 3 steps are Affirmation, Recognition, and Acknowledgement. We do need to consider that the 3 steps, as identified above, are often not separate in time: they evolve naturally, all together in a synergic approach.

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“First,” Emmons writes, “gratitude is an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts, and benefits we’ve received.”

The above comprises the appreciation of something affecting us positively in many ways.

The second step is called the “recognition” stage. Immediately after (or together with) affirming goodness, we recognize that the sources of the goodness, the causes of our increased sense of inner happiness, are external to us. This coincides with a sense of inner awareness.

The last step is “acknowledgement”: giving credit where credit is due. The source of our well-being and enjoyment is external to us, and so we finally thank this entity.

Effects of Gratitude

Practicing a daily habit of gratitude has enormous advantages and apparently no contraindications at all.

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Numerous studies have demonstrated the powerful impact of practicing gratitude on both body and mind.[2]

It turns out that everyday experiences–and very simple exercises like keeping a gratitude journal–can change the wiring in your brain (neuroplasticity, anyone?) and change your life for the better.

Scientific evidence has proven that kindness changes the brain and impacts the heart and the immune and nervous systems.[3] Gratitude improves sleep quality as well.[4]

Gratitude and Kindness, expression of love and connecting with others: those ingredients are needed by the body to produce more Oxytocin, the “love hormone”. More Oxytocin equals to a general better feeling and wellbeing.[5]

According to Jane McGonigal, a scientific study concluded that “I wish I had let myself be happier” is one of the top 5 regrets of the dying.[6]

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Easy habits to cultivate Gratitude

Practical tip No. 1: Have you said “thanks” today?

Practicing saying “thank you” in a sincere and meaningful way. It’s one of the easiest psychological strategies for enhancing the feeling of gratitude. Looking for a challenge? Smile and thank the most grouchy, surly and unfriendly person you meet during the day. Perhaps you will not receive some kindness back, but remember that gratitude is a gift.

I’ve found tons of useful resources and studies all over the Internet, but if you are looking for a comprehensive starting point, a visit to the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California is a must. The key concepts summarized in this article are covered in depth on their website.

Also, at the Emmons Lab website, you can find lots of resources, including a questionnaire about gratitude.[7]

TIP: if you have just 3 minutes or so to start, take this quiz at the Greater Good website.

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Practical tip No. 2: adding gratitude to your daily journal

Simply writing down 3 sentences before going to bed and adding 3 new ones after waking up will make a substantial change. Looking for a shortcut? Then just think (and say, if not disturbing anyone) the three statements while laying down on your bed, eyes closed, before falling asleep. First, say: “Today I’m grateful for…” Then, wait a few seconds to acknowledge the sense of gratitude. It might feel like a sense of inner lightness gently warming up your chest. Then, move on and say the next one, for a total of 3. A light smile on your face is optional.

Putting feelings into words is believed to produce therapeutic effects in the brain,[8] and writing down stuff helps us become more aware of our thoughts, relieving the brain from its usual chatter. So, limit the use of the shortcut above to 2 or 3 times per week. Use some ink on the other days.

Another good resource is the article on Lifehacker.com about journaling and its effects.

Other Strategies

Everybody can easily incorporate simple and cheap habits to enhance their feelings of gratitude; consequently, we can all take advantage of the benefits associated with the experience of thankfulness. Among other psychological strategies, you can try:

Conclusion

There is nothing to lose and so much to gain by expressing and practicing gratitude. Let’s share our experiences in the comments section below!

Featured photo credit: Manlio Lo Giudice via theholisticexperiment.com

Reference

[1] Emmons Lab Website http://emmons.faculty.ucdavis.edu/
[2] Growing new neurons by weaving gratitude circuitry in your brain https://thegratefullifebook.com/2015/03/24/growing-new-neurons-by-weaving-gratitude-circuitry-in-your-brain/
[3] Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12585811
[4] Effects of Constructive Worry, Imagery Distraction, and Gratitude Interventions on Sleep Quality: A Pilot Trial http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1758-0854.2011.01049.x/abstract
[5] Why Kindness is good for you http://drdavidhamilton.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Prediction-Aug-10.pdf
[6] TED talk: Jane McGonigal: The game that can give you 10 extra years of life http://bit.ly/1EKyPMQ
[7] The Gratitude Questionnaire-Six Item Form (GQ-6), By Michael E. McCullough, Ph.D., Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., Jo-Ann Tsang, Ph.D. http://www.sas.upenn.edu/psych/seligman/gratitudequestionnaire6.pdf
[8] Putting Feelings Into Words Produces Therapeutic Effects in the Brain; UCLA Neuroimaging Study Supports Ancient Buddhist Teachings http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/Putting-Feelings-Into-Words-Produces-8047

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Last Updated on August 8, 2019

How to Improve Your Brain Memory Naturally: Foods to Eat And Skip

How to Improve Your Brain Memory Naturally: Foods to Eat And Skip

Staying focused and maintaining high performance in a hectic work rhythm leads to stress and mental exhaustion. So how to improve brain memory naturally?

The good news is that the negative effects of increased cognitive efforts can be prevented: brain foods, combined with healthy sleep regime and exercise, improve memory, concentration, and intellect.

What’s more, cutting many foods that we consider “generally harmful” out of the diet improves brain function and reduces brain health risks.

How does food improve brain health? Research proves that specific elements contained in the food positively influence molecular systems and support cognitive function.[1] Here’s how:

  • Amino acids support neurotransmitters, endogenous chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells. This helps keep the brain sharp.
  • Glucose is the main source of energy for human brain. Almost all energy that the brain consumes is derived from glucose.
  • Fatty acids strengthen nerve cells. They bring essential nutrients into brain cells and keep harmful toxins out.
  • Antioxidants protect brain cells by inhibiting oxidization, reducing its negative effects, and removing oxidizing agents from the body.

Knowing what substances are good for brain health, it’s easier to choose a diet that improves memory, maintains brain health and protects it from damage factors. Many foods are known to have positive effects on cognitive health, so anyone can choose their favorite ones to include in their daily diet.

10 Foods That Improve Your Brain

1. Nuts and Seeds

Nuts, such as walnuts and almonds, contain fatty Omega-3 acids that the brain needs for its healthy function, and antioxidant vitamin E that protects nerve cells and reduces brain health risks.

Whole grain, beans, and seeds – sunflower, pumpkin and others – are also a great source of amino acids and zinc that improve memory and contribute mental clarity.

Nutritionists recommend consuming nuts and seeds as a healthy snack – a handful of them is enough to satisfy midday hunger and to cover your daily requirement of brain-supporting substances.

2. Salmon and Other Fatty Fish

Salmon is another source of omega-3 fatty acids that maintain brain health. Essential fatty acids contained in fatty fish, such as tuna, herring and sardines, have a protective effect on brain in the aging process by reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

In a shorter-term perspective, they show positive effects on cognitive-behavioral health: they significantly reduce the risk and the symptoms of depression, ADHD, and anxiety.

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3. Dark Green Vegetables

Rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, green leafy vegetables are known for their positive effects on general well-being and sharpness of mind.

Additionally, such veggies as broccoli, avocado, or kale are powerful cancer fighters. They contain vitamin K that fights lack of concentration, prevents Alzheimer’s disease, and works as an anti-aging substance.

Spinach, kale, and chard also contain brain-boosting vitamins B and iron that helps transfer oxygen to the brain.

4. Dark Chocolate

We often assume that healthy food is not tasty and our favorite sweets are unhealthy, but that’s not quite true.

Combining the useful with the pleasant is possible when it comes to chocolate – and the darker the better: the best choice is 70% cocoa and more. Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids that stimulate blood flow to the brain, and such elements as iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium that boost energy and support many body functions.

Consuming cocoa improves cognitive function , reduces stress, and protects mental health.

5. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are packed with carotenoids that safeguard fat in the body. As brain is mainly made of fat, this function is especially important for it.

Tomatoes are a great source of two carotenoid types: lycopene and beta-carotene. They are powerful antioxidants that protect brain cells from free-radical damage, regulate cell growth, have anti-aging effects, and improve memory.

6. Eggs

Many of us mostly consume eggs as a source of proteins, but they have much more value for our health. They contain choline that regulates enzymes essential for mental health.

Eggs are a safe way to consume cholesterol that strengthens brain cells and structures. Apart from that, eggs are packed with antioxidants and healthy fats that nurture and protect the brain.

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7. Berries

Berries are a great source of vitamins that help our body function properly. They contain vitamins C and K, antioxidants, fiber, and many other important nutrients.

Dark berries, such as blackberries, blueberries, and cherries, are a source of flavonoids that improve brain health and boost memory.

And while fresh berries are usually a seasonal treat, dried and frozen ones are also rich in healthy nutrients and can be consumed throughout the entire year.

8.Green tea

Green tea has been being used as a medicine throughout the centuries.[2] The list of its benefits for health and well-being is very long – but we’ll focus here on its positive effects on brain. It is extremely rich in antioxidants that protect brain from harmful free radicals and reduce the risk of cancer.

In 1494, Japanese scientists identified in green tea an amino acid called L-theanine. It promotes relaxation and facilitates sleep, helping maintain concentration, regulating emotions, and boosting cognitive abilities.

9. Sage and rosemary

Adding these herbs to your favorite dishes not only improves the taste, but also sharpen the mind, alleviate fatigue, and increase mental clarity.

These herbs contain over 40 active compounds that benefit brain health and enhance cognitive activity. They promote focus, concentration, and calmness, which is essential for alertness and long-term memory.[3]

10. Red wine

While high levels of alcohol are destructive for overall well-being and for brain health in particular, small amounts of red wine are refreshing and vivifying for brain.

Studies have shown that red wine, alongside with it relaxing effect, also improves the brain’s ability to remove harmful toxins by regulating the glymphatic system, reduces the risk of inflammation, and improves cognitive abilities and motor skills.[4]

5 Foods That Harm the Brain

We’ve figured out what food is healthy – but knowing what is to avoid is also essential for maintaining brain health, good memory and sharp focus. Here’s a list of the most harmful foods that impair memory, impact mood, and increase health risks:

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1. Sugary Foods and Beverages

Studies prove that higher sugar levels in the blood not only result in excessive body weight and increase the risk of diabetes – they also expose you to the risk of dementia.[5] That’s why rep lacing sugary drinks and foods with healthier products is essential.

Consider consuming unsweetened tea, water, vegetable juice, and unsweetened dairy products instead.

2. Trans Fats

Trans fats, or unsaturated fatty acids, in small amounts occur in natural and healthy products, such as dairy and meat, where they’re are not a major concern. Much more harmful are industrially produced ones, which are used in snacks, packaged baked goods, and fast food.

As there’s a relation between the intake of trans fats and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, World Health Organization introduced a guide to eliminate trans fats from the global food supply.

3. Refined Carbohydrates

Refined carbs include sugar and highly-processed grains – for example, white flour. Due to their high glycemic index (GI), they are considered harmful to brain: foods high in GI impair memory in both children and adults, increase inflammation risks and can cause degenerative diseases.

A healthy alternative is whole-grain foods, vegetables, and fruits.

4. Aspartame

A thing that is considered “better than sugar”, but in fact is not better at all. It is efficient for losing weight because it has zero calories, but its components – phenylalanine, methanol, and aspartic acid – have negative effects on cognitive abilities, mood, and alertness.

A healthy choice recommended by experts is reducing the amount of sugar and artificial sweeteners in your diet, or cutting them out altogether.

5. Alcohol

While experts mention positive effects of moderate amounts of red wine on brain health, the excessive consumption of alcohol can cause severe problems that everyone needs to be aware of.

Reduction in brain volume, metabolic problems, disruption of neurotransmitters are the most frequent negative effects. They cause memory loss, behavior disorders, and long-term brain damage.

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Keep alcohol consumption moderate, or avoid it at all, especially if you already have any health risks.

Bonus Advice…

Just eating healthy food sometimes is obviously not enough for improving cognitive performance in the long-term perspective. The key to achieving the best result is getting healthy nutrients consistently. That’s why carefully balancing your daily meal is essential for staying focused and productive.

Here’s some advice on what foods you can choose for your daily diet to boost your memory, concentration, and brain health:

Breakfast

A full and healthy breakfast is an efficient way to start your day productively – so never skip it!

Oatmeal, berry smoothies, and eggs are traditional breakfast meals, and they are a great source of memory-boosting nutrients.

Lunch

It’s sometimes tempting to opt for fast food or packaged baked goods, but stay away from them if you want to stay healthy and energized.

Sandwiches and salads with fish, green leafy vegetables, whole grain and chicken are a great choice for a light and healthy lunch.

Dinner

Again, don’t turn fast food into a habit – such options as seafood and fish, salads with tomatoes and green vegetables, kale, and whole-grain products energize your body and are a better choice for brain health and overall well-being.

Snacks and Desserts

Cookies and candies are a popular (and not really healthy) option for a snack or a dessert. Instead, try choosing healthier meals for your snack. Walnuts or almonds, fresh fruit or berries (depending on the season), or fruit and nut mix give a powerful energy boost.

And don’t forget that dark chocolate is also a healthy choice for a dessert!

The Bottom Line

Improving and maintaining memory, focus and cognitive abilities is crucial for a full and active life. Choosing healthy foods and avoiding unhealthy ones helps support brain health in both short-term and long-term perspective. Keep your diet consistent, and combine good food habits with exercise, healthy sleep regime and reasonable work-life balance to achieve best results.

Featured photo credit: Thomas Evans via unsplash.com

Reference

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