The Power of a Grateful Brain

3 min read

The importance of gratitude as a leadership tool is a powerful concept that can transform individuals and entire organizations. Getting great at gratitude can increase productivity, enhance collaboration among teams, and make managers more effective, influential, and respected…let alone happier! It is not only deeply rooted in positive psychology, but is also intricately connected to science and the brain’s neural pathways. Once you understand how you can influence the positive feedback loop that occurs in the brain when you practice thankfulness, you, too, will want to exercise those neural connections daily.

Expressing appreciation, or gratitude, is not just a feel-good practice, it releases chemical messengers—dopamine and serotonin—promoting feelings of happiness and well-being. It’s like giving your brain a shot of motivation and enthusiasm, which can be especially valuable in the challenging world of business and leadership. When you express appreciation, you’re not merely making someone’s day brighter – you’re shaping their perception and engagement, while also positively affecting your own brain.

How does it work?

Studies in positive psychology, inspired by experts like Shawn Achor, emphasize the undeniable connection between appreciation and happiness. With the brain’s release of dopamine and serotonin, neural pathways— like the highways of our brain—facilitate the transfer of information. What’s fascinating is that these pathways are highly malleable. They adapt and evolve based on our experiences, interactions, and thought patterns. When we consistently engage in appreciative thinking and communication, we’re actively shaping our neural pathways to be more receptive and are consistently rewiring our brains to react.  This rewiring makes it easier for you to spot opportunities, solve problems, and maintain a positive outlook, even in the face of adversity. It’s like strengthening a muscle that propels you toward success. So, if you make it a habit to appreciate and express gratitude regularly, you’re training your brain to focus on the positive aspects of life.

That being said, appreciation isn’t limited to an internal exercise; it’s something that should be communicated outwardly and consistently practiced. Effective leadership relies on clear and positive communication, and thankfulness plays a pivotal role. When you express gratitude toward your team members, you’re not just being polite – you’re nurturing a culture of positivity and using appreciation as a bridge to connect with your team on a deeper level. By doing this, you’re not just strengthening your interpersonal relationships but also creating a more conducive working environment where team members and colleagues feel valued and appreciated and are more likely to be motivated and engaged at work.

Let’s take a look at some of our favorite practices that are proven to help create a positive mood and improve your skills as a leader:

1. Smile – A smile is always the best accessory! Even if you don’t feel like smiling, forcing yourself to do so can actually help to boost your mood. Plus, your smile will encourage others to do the same; creating a positive cycle for a happy environment.

2. Activate Affirmations – Repeating positive affirmations helps to rewire your brain and can have a powerful effect on your mood and outlook on life. Jot down a list of 13 positive attributes related to yourself or your present circumstances. This exercise serves as a cognitive training technique to cultivate a mindset that consistently identifies and appreciates the positive aspects of people and situations.

3. Practice Gratitude –  One of the best ways to re-train your brain to be more positive is to practice gratitude. By directing your attention toward the positive aspects of your life, this approach allows you to gain a fresh perspective and facilitates the discovery of silver linings amid challenging situations. You can intentionally practice this by reflecting daily in a journal on things you are thankful for. This will foster a greater sense of appreciation and well-being in your life.

4. Spend Time with Positive People Hanging out with negative people can often bring you down, while spending time with positive people has the opposite effect. Positive people can help to lift you up and make you see the world in a more positive light.

5. Take Care of Yourself If you’re not taking care of yourself both physically and mentally, it’s going to be difficult to be positive no matter how hard you try. Make sure that you’re getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and taking some time for yourself every day to relax and de-stress…and encourage your team to do the same!

It’s essential to recognize that the impact of positive thoughts and words extends beyond mere lip service. Scientifically, these expressions are pivotal in influencing the intricate balance of neurotransmitters within your brain. When you consistently practice gratefulness, you stimulate the release of positive neurochemicals associated with well-being. Over time, this neurobiological effect manifests in tangible improvements to your mental and emotional state. You’ll also experience the greatness of gratitude reflected back to you in the actions and responses of the people around you.

LEADERSHIP TAKEAWAY: As you continue your journey of cultivating thankfulness, appreciate it not just as a concept, but as a scientifically-proven tool for enhancing your overall sense of well-being.


Would you like to be a better leader? Contact us about leadership training that can advance your career and business.

Dr. Cheri Rainey is the CEO/Founder of Rainey Leadership Learning, partnering with leaders to support the entire employee life cycle.