Practice kindness, gratitude, and mindfulness for mental health
Happiness can be described as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile”. You can be happy when you feel like you’re living the life you always wanted or when you’re enjoying positive and healthy relationships with people close to you. Being mindful, kind, compassionate, and grateful also inspires the feeling of happiness. However, happiness levels are hugely affected by brain changes that are influenced by our nutrition, different social factors and behaviour. The article guides you through a few of the possible practices you can implement in your everyday routine to start experiencing happiness daily.
Mindfulness is the key to keeping your mind calmer and being more focused
Mindfulness represents maintaining an awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment in the moment we are in. Mindfulness plays a huge role in the brain network responsible for calming the mind which is linked to happiness, prudent thinking, and enjoying the present moment. Mindfulness has a so-called ‘quieting effect’ on the brain’s mind-wandering network and even when the mind does start to wander people that practice mindfulness are better at outsmarting intrusive thoughts.
The results from the same study show mindfulness also improved the attention span and concentration of the participants as they got familiar with
- distinguishing between naturally arising thoughts and elaborated thinking,
- minimizing the distracting quality of past and future concerns by reframing them as mental projections occurring in the present,
- and using the breath as an anchor for attention during mindfulness.
All of that allowed the participants’ minds to rest naturally rather than trying to suppress the occurrence of thoughts.
During mindfulness practices, a brain region which has a core role in supporting your internal sense of knowledge, perceptions, feelings, and judgments, called the anterior insula, is activated. Normal functioning of this region is associated with general well-being as findings suggest it mediates your internal sense known as interoception. Ever heard your stomach growl? Or felt really good in your own body? Hearing thoughts of encouragement? You have interoception to thank for that. Being aware of these feelings allows you to be attentive to your body's needs. Interoceptive awareness also boosts the concentration of the main chemical that helps our brain to calm down, called GABA, which improves our mood. People who practice mindfulness meditation for 20 minutes 4 times a week for at least two weeks can also contribute to the nervous system’s ability to adapt and change, reorganise, or grow nerve cells which sharpens memory, concentration, and cognitive skills .
Mindfulness meditation improves well-being
Mindfulness meditation is a mental practice that helps us slow down our racing thoughts. It is often considered a therapeutic technique where a mental state is achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Wondering what meditation benefits for brain are? Brain changes such as increased size and heightened interaction in regions involved in regulating attention, emotion, and self-awareness have been related to mindfulness meditation . This has been linked to the reduced secretion of the stress-induced hormone known as cortisol which promotes better mood. People meditating at least four times a week for 4 years or longer have a ‘younger brain’ compared to those who didn’t meditate as more outer brain layer, which is rich in neural cells, has developed in the brain as a consequence of meditation . These cells positively impact our movement, memory, and emotions.
How to practise mindfulness in 10 easy steps
Start your mindful meditation by stopping for a second, whenever feels right for you.
- Inhale and exhale deeply.
- Focus your vision on a spot or close your eyes.
- Be aware of your body posture changing with each breath you take.
- Listen to the sound of your breathing.
- Be aware of your feelings and thoughts. Everything that you’re experiencing is valid.
- Concentrate on the emotions that feel good and observe how they’re slowly spreading all over your body.
- Where and how can you feel them?
- Imagine you’re scanning your whole body from top to bottom while attentively exploring every thought and feeling there is.
- The goal is not to make them go away but to observe them as they are.
- Before you finish the mindfulness meditation, take a few deep breaths.
Those of you who happen to have an Apple Watch can also try out the Mindfulness app which helps you concentrate on your breathing and mindfully reflect. The app is designed for shorter mindfulness techniques, ranging between 1 and 5 minutes, which is perfect when we are on the go or when our schedules are busy.
Kindness keeps us healthier and happier
Kindness is defined as being friendly, generous, and considerate towards yourself or other people. Practising kindness boosts our immune system, making us healthier and more alert while also helping us sleep better and regulate our emotions well. This effect takes place by simply watching kindness.
Let’s take a look at the brain benefits of kindness. Practising kindness can impact a brain area associated with positive emotion which is the part of the brain right behind our eyes. Regularly being compassionate and kind over 6 months will result in easier access to positive emotions. That is how kindness and mental health link to each other.
When you want to practice your compassion try listening actively. Be fully present in the conversation, and give your full attention to what is being said. Listening provides relief to those suffering. Let them steer the conversation and make sure to check your understanding of their narrative to reinforce their perception that you were truly listening.
5 easy steps to be kind
- Tell someone when you think positively of them. Let them know by paying them a compliment.
- Offer help to someone. Like helping your family member unload their grocery bags from the back of their car.
- Say a few words of encouragement to someone. Even just a simple “You’ve got this” can make someone's day.
- Call or visit an older family member. Catch up with them and listen carefully to what they’re telling you.
- Buy something for the person standing in line behind you at the cafe or the store. Do it anonymously to surprise them and bring a smile to their face.
Gratitude increases emotional intelligence and helps us feel good
Gratitude is defined as being aware of the good things that happen in your life. Gratitude is both a fleeting emotion and a stable trait which means you can be a grateful person or just experience thankful moments. And most importantly: gratitude can be cultivated.
How do gratitude and mental health tie together? An active practice of gratitude can lead to greater emotional intelligence. The more you practice gratitude, the more you strengthen the brain’s network for gratitude, making it easier to focus on feelings of gratitude, be more empathic, and be kinder towards yourself and others.
Brain activity in the front part of the brain is also not that strong if we only think about how grateful we are. Expressing gratitude is what makes a difference. This can be done by saying something aloud, or even by drawing, painting, and writing. Expressing gratitude regularly also tricks the brain’s reward system toward rewards for others versus oneself and is associated with a reduction in the level of cortisol, the stress hormone [10, 11].
While we can be very creative when expressing gratitude, here’s an idea to help you start practising it more. Express gratitude to yourself or others. Simply say things you appreciate in yourself or others by using sentences such as “I am grateful for my bravery” or “I am grateful for you.” You could also write a thank-you note to someone you appreciate if you struggle to find the “right words” while speaking to them.
Make sure your body can produce the happiness chemicals after you’ve done all the work
Higher levels of two of the so-called happiness chemicals, serotonin and dopamine, are associated with being kind and grateful [7, 12, 13]. Expressing kindness and gratitude activates our serotonin and dopamine systems. Dopamine causes our reward and pleasure system to light up, making us feel good when practising kindness while serotonin is responsible for overall mood and sleep regulation. Dopamine also increases our awareness and motivation.
However, the production of serotonin and dopamine is only possible when we get enough of their building blocks from our food intake. Dopamine’s building block, tyrosine, and serotonin’s building block, tryptophan, can be found in protein-rich foods such as tofu, chia seeds, eggs, meat, and fish. Maintaining a protein-rich diet can help your brain increase serotonin and dopamine production. We can also ensure the adequate intake of building blocks by turning to a supplement form. brain feed has created the smallest, nutrient-dense serotonin enhancement tablet and the world’s first natural 800mg dopamine precursor capsule that can help you maintain your well-being. You can get them from £13.99 GBP.
Be the change you want to see in the world and celebrate happiness by doing a random act of kindness today!
 Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach To Getting The Life You Want, 2008. Penguin Books.
 Brewer, J. A., Worhunsky, P. D., Gray, J. R., Tang, Y., Weber, J., & Kober, H. (). Meditation Experience Is Associated with Differences in Default Mode Network Activity and Connectivity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108(50), 20254–20259.
 Mrazek, M. D., Franklin, M. S., Phillips, D. T., Baird, B., & Schooler, J. W. (2013). Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering. Psychological Science, 24(5), 776–781.
 Treadway, M. T., & Lazar, S. W. (2010). Meditation and Neuroplasticity: Using Mindfulness to Change the Brain. In R. A. Baer (Ed.), Assessing Mindfulness & Acceptance Processes in Clients: Illuminating the Theory & Practice of Change (pp. 185–206). Context Press.
 Tang, Y., Hölzel, B. K., & Posner, M. I. (2015). The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16(4), 213–225.
 Luders, E., Cherbuin, N., & Kurth, F. (2015). Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on grey matter atrophy. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 1551.
 Hamilton, D. R. (2017). The Five Side Effects of Kindness. Hay House.
 Pang, Y., Song, C., & Ma, C. (2022). Effect of Different Types of Empathy on Prosocial Behavior: Gratitude as Mediator. Frontiers in psychology, 13, 768827.
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