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Thankful

People making a daily thankful post on Facebook this month may be doing more than publicly sharing their gratitude.

The routine is rewiring their brains to make them more grateful overall, said Kevin Dohr, a psychologist in Missoula who gives positive psychology workshops in addition to his private practice.

Instead of posting what they’re thankful for on Thanksgiving Day alone, people have taken to posting one thing for which they’re thankful each day this month on the social media website.

“Love this time of year! I love reading what people are thankful for … with all the hate and discontent in the world it’s nice to see how the little things that are forgotten on the daily are remembered the month of November,” Jacinda Hendrix wrote in response to a Missoulian request for comment on the Facebook phenomenon.

Some people are thankful for small things, like Sara Mitchell, who has been participating in the daily thankful posts.

“Yesterday, I was thankful for sweatpants,” she said.

Other people have listed more expansive reasons.

“Even though we won’t have money for Christmas this year I am so thankful and blessed for my family and home and health! My faith brings us through every month and I thank God every day for his loving care and hands that guide us through the storms!” Tammela Spencer-Marty posted.

Yet other people wrote they are thankful for the people in their lives.

“I am thankful for my daughter,” Kati Gilson wrote.

Angie Weisenburger wrote that she’s thankful for her daughter’s physician, who “truly exemplifies treating the whole rather than the symptom.”

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The comments of gratitude are counter to the typical human reaction to experiences, Dohr said.

People naturally have a negativity bias because of survival instincts that bring negatives to the fore of consciousness, he said.

However, brains get better at things through practice and can change because of their neuroplasticity, or ability to be reshaped over time, Dohr said. Hence pausing at some point during the day and saying or writing down at least one thing that went well or something for which people are grateful is like the brain lifting positive weights.

People often keep gratitude journals, meditate, enumerate positives in prayers or say thanks around the dinner table. During workshops, Dohr said, he sometimes has participants write gratitude letters, then meet with the letters’ recipients to read them aloud.

“So there are different ways to do it, but the main thing is to just stick with it long enough,” he said, adding that after two to three months being grateful will become a habit rather than an exercise.

Making a daily thankful posting on Facebook is just another form of gratitude practice, Dohr said.

People likely feel an immediate lift in spirits after posting, he said. “And it’s going to have measurable effects on other parts of their lives as well.”

Those impacts, as research has shown, can include people feeling more optimistic about upcoming events in their lives and more purposeful; being more alert and energetic, and more likely to exercise; having better connection with others; and sleeping better, Dohr said.

According to data compiled by the University of California Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center from its online gratitude journal thnx4.org, people who entered gratitude posts every day for 14 days showed significant increases in gratitude and happiness, greater satisfaction with life and higher resilience to stress. The group also reported fewer headaches and less stomach pain, coughs and sore throats.

The slight daily effort necessary to rewire the brain and make people happier improves people’s relationships with family, friends and their communities as well, Dohr said.

If a medicine was proven to do the same, how many people would take it? he wondered. “I mean millions of people would take it. In this case, it’s medication that’s self-administered.”

For more on gratitude practice, go to greatergood.berkeley.edu.

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Reporter Alice Miller can be reached at 523-5251 or at alice.miller@missoulian.com.

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