Keep it happy! Walking through the long grass.
Feeling gratitude triggers the release of these two “feel good” chemicals, dopamine and serotonin, which lifts our mood and makes us feel happy. The more we are able to feel grateful, the longer the “feel good” lasts. Written by trainee Ollie Coach, Deborah Stephenson.
“I’ve got an idea for your blog,” said my son, one evening last week.
That stopped me in my tracks! At the age of 13, I’m delighted that he’s thought about my blog, let alone had an idea for it!
It was bedtime and we were in my daughter’s room, the lights were off but she was finding it difficult to settle down. “When I close my curtains before I go to bed,” he continued softly, “I look out of the window, and I think about a good thing that has happened that day.”
Ok! Wow! This is new and unexpected.
“It makes me feel good,” he says, “and I’m able to go to sleep better.” He tells us he started this around the beginning of lockdown and it has made him feel happier.
Later, when his sister is asleep, I ask him tentatively, “What happens if you can’t find anything good to think about?”
“Oh, there’s always something that went ok,” he says confidently with a reassuring smile, “even if it’s only small.”
That’s a relief, but how does this work, and what’s happening when he looks out of the window and feels grateful for the good thing that has happened?
It probably won’t surprise you that it’s to do with our old friends, dopamine and serotonin. Research shows that feeling gratitude triggers the release of these two “feel good” chemicals which lifts our mood and makes us feel happy, so even though my son is not still experiencing the “good thing” when he’s getting ready for bed, just thinking about it and feeling grateful that it happened, still has that effect.
Interestingly, it also seems that the more we are able to feel grateful, the longer the “feel good” lasts. This is because dopamine and serotonin create neural pathways in our brain - think of it as walking through long grass. When you walk through it once, the grass springs back and you can hardly see where you were. If you walk repeatedly along the same way, the grass will become flattened, and you will be able to follow the route more quickly and easily.
Studies have established an overwhelming association between gratitude and our physical and mental health. It has been shown to have a positive effect on conditions such as heart disease, inflammations, neurodegeneration, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders, and, as my son says… it can also improve our sleep.
In a study I read about, they asked one group of people to write down things they were grateful for each day, another group to record their daily hassles, and the third group to record neutral events. After two months, the experiment showed that the people in the gratitude group were considerably more positive and optimistic, and felt better about their lives than those in the other two groups.
It might sound obvious that thinking about good things makes us feel good, but how often do we dwell on those daily hassles - the stuff that went wrong or not quite to plan, the things that worried, annoyed or upset us? Unfortunately, the long grass on the neural pathways of negativity can also become well worn, so be careful.
Now, when I close the curtains on another day, I try to spend a moment remembering one thing to be grateful for, however small, and it is true - it makes me feel good! I call it my “Alexander moment” (because that’s the name of my son), I wonder what you will call your gratitude time?
And there’s something else too…
If your gratitude is for someone, or for something that someone has done for you, then please, please tell them - not only for yourself, but for them. Yes, we are back with dopamine and serotonin because research shows that our brain also releases these chemicals when we receive gratitude. So let that person know, and you will both benefit.
My son’s school has set up an email postcard system where the children can write to teachers they might want to thank because they won’t be seeing them in person before the end of term. My son, a bit unsure of exactly how to word the first one, has now written seven!
The lovely thing about this is that all those postcards of gratitude will not only trigger dopamine and serotonin in the students, giving them a “feel good” hit as they write their thanks, but it will also get them flowing for the teachers… along with a few tears I should think!
So who do you feel gratitude for?
Don’t keep it a secret. Write them a postcard, phone them, whisper it in their ear… Pass it on, and see what happens.
Deborah Stephenson, Ollie Coach trainee
I am an Ollie School trainee and a Director at an Independent Prep School for boys. I am a trained journalist and worked in BBC Local Radio for more than twenty years as a reporter, bulletin reader, news editor and programme maker. It was a great job, but I wanted to do something to support my own children’s wellbeing with a view to taking that on to support others and, in pursuit of a better work life balance, I resigned as the Assistant Editor of BBC Essex last year. Inspired by the Ollie School concept I was excited to be accepted for the training course and it has been a fascinating and enlightening and journey so far.
To get in contact with Deborah, email firstname.lastname@example.org
To find out more about Ollie and his Super Powers and how to become an Ollie Coach go to www.ollieandhissuperpowers.com