The neurology of gratitude, appreciation and thanksgiving

Savoring feelings of gratitude, appreciation and thanksgiving has very profound effects on how our brain and body function.

by Dr. Mark Force — 

Savoring feelings of gratitude, appreciation and thanksgiving has some very profound effects on how our brain and body function. This also improves our health and well-being, reinforces social values, determines what we experience in life and even leads to how successful we are in achieving our overall vision for life.

The reticular activating system

The reticular activating system (RAS) is a part of the brain stem (the transitional area between the brain and spinal cord) that controls wakefulness, arousal, motivation, sexual activity, circadian rhythm, respiration, cardiac rhythm and other essential body functions. General anesthetics work through inhibiting the RAS, as do many psychoactive drugs. Damage to the RAS can result in permanent coma.

Dysregulation of the RAS can result in hypervigilance, an overamplified response to stressors in the environment, as well as anxiety and panic disorder, and may play a role in autism. It has been proposed that the RAS plays a critical role in memory and dysfunction. Damage to the RAS may cause dementias, including Alzheimer’s.

The RAS also plays a crucial role in consciousness. It is generally assumed that this role is not in regard to the generation of consciousness, which seems to be a higher cortical (brain) function, but rather as a gatekeeper of which sensory information reaches the frontal cortex, where consciousness (self and general awareness) seems to generate.

In this way, the RAS mediates selective attention and perceptual awareness. Research indicates that the frontal cortex and higher cortical functions determine how the RAS is “programmed” to filter sensory information and control which sensory information from our nervous system reaches those parts of the brain where we are aware.

Using gratitude, appreciation and thanksgiving effectively

When you experience gratitude and appreciation, and practice thanksgiving, you reinforce the RAS to filter more effectively in order to concentrate the triggers from the environment that recreate those states.

So practicing thanksgiving and feeling gratitude and appreciation for what you like, desire and want more of actually reinforces your nervous system to farm the world around you for more of what will cause you to be grateful, thankful and appreciative.

This is how to use your mind to experience the “law of attraction.” In other words, the practice of being in the state you want to experience more programs your RAS to re-create that very state by culling from the world around you anything and anyone that will amplify that conditioning you have already created.

So, indulge in thanksgiving and you will have more cause to be thankful; practice gratitude and you will experience more to be grateful for; be appreciative and you will receive reinforcement for your appreciation.


Dr. Mark Force is a chiropractic physician at The Elements of Health in north Scottsdale, Ariz. He practices functional and natural health care and is the author of Choosing Health: Dr. Force’s Functional Selfcare Workbook. 480-563-4256 or

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 29, Number 1, Feb/Mar 2010.

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