The Physiology of Gratitude

Coral Gables Counseling Center - Saturday, November 18, 2023
By coralgables_admin

By Natalie Peña, Mental Health Counselor, Practicum Intern

Practicing gratitude does not come naturally for everyone.

Many people struggle to be grateful for countless reasons. Some people do not feel the world is on their side. Others don’t see the benefit of gratitude. Many do not think their life is worth celebrating.

If you struggle to practice gratitude, you are not alone, and that’s okay.

Gratitude is a mindset, and practicing gratitude is a habit.


Implementing a new goal or task into your routine can feel complicated, impractical, and foreign, like many habits.

However, understanding the why behind the practice can foster acceptance and excitement for many.

For instance, many people are told to eat nutritiously, but it is not until a person learns why nutrition matters that eating healthily feels less unattainable and more inviting.

That is the goal of this blog post: to consider one understated “why” of practicing gratitude.

The “why” in this case is the positive impact of gratitude on the brain and how this positive impact can permanently change your life.

Studies show that three powerful neurotransmitters are released when we practice gratitude:

  1. Dopamine
  2. Serotonin, and
  3. Oxytocin

Dopamine produces feelings of pleasure and happiness and plays a significant role in managing mood, temperament, and sleep.

Serotonin helps to manage mood, digestion, and sexual drive.

Oxytocin encourages pro-social behaviors and helps us feel connected to others.

Separately or combined, these neurotransmitters can change how you see and interact with the world. In essence, these chemicals can (naturally) change your life.

Through repetition, engaging in activities that release dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin can strengthen these neuropathways in the brain and boost the overall production of these feel-good chemicals.

Practicing gratitude, in this context, can serve as a natural anti-depressant. The more you practice, the better you will feel and the more inviting practicing gratitude will become.

If you want to practice gratitude throughout this holiday season but struggle to materialize this goal, try revisiting the “why.” Sometimes, this makes all the difference.

Thank you from all of us here at Coral Gables Counseling Center! We appreciate all of you, our clients, blog readers, podcast listeners and referrers.  We wish you all a beautiful Thanksgiving Day!


“Our WHY is our purpose, cause or belief—the driving force behind everything we do. Our HOWs are the actions we take when we are at our natural best to bring our WHY to life.”