Train Your Brain for Greater Gratitude

DR JOHN DEMARTINI   -   Updated 3 months ago

If you are inspired to develop and grow an attitude of gratitude, then it may interest you to know how gratitude changes and rewires your brain.

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DR JOHN DEMARTINI - Updated 3 months ago

When I was 4 years old, I clearly remember my mother putting me to bed and saying, “No matter what you do in life, be sure to count your blessings before you go to bed at night, because those that are grateful for what they have, receive more to be grateful for.”

I believe that there's incredible wisdom in that statement, and that the majority of people don't realize how powerful gratitude is.

Two types of gratitude:

There are two types of gratitude. The first is what you might call SUPERFICIAL gratitude. It's the kind of gratitude you tend to express when someone does something that you perceive to be supporting your set of values. As such, you’ll likely respond with a number of "thank yous".

This form of gratitude comes quite easily when you feel that you are being supported. It’s what I refer to as "amygdala-driven gratitude."

The amygdala, is part of the limbic brain, housed in the subcortical region of your brain. It deals with survival impulses towards that which you infatuate with and instincts away from that which you resent. It's the part of your brain that prompts you to seek prey and safety, while avoiding predators or what you perceive to be potential threats. It's the primal aspect of your consciousness that leads to superficial gratitude when you perceive that your seeking needs are met.

Then there's a DEEPER gratitude that tends to emerge when you simultaneously see the pairs of opposites that occur in life – positives and negatives, upsides and downsides. The resulting balance in your perceptions and consciousness is what helps you recognize the hidden order in your apparent chaos.

Think of it this way: when you meet someone, there will be times when you perceive that they support your set of values and times when you perceive that they challenge your set of values.

Superficial gratitude tends to occur when you perceive that others SUPPORT your set of values, and you respond with ‘gratitude’. However, when you perceive that they CHALLENGE your set of values, you might not feel very thankful at the time.

However, when you can simultaneously see BOTH sides of their behavior and have a realistic expectation that they’re going to both support and challenge you in life, that is when your mind is most likely to be perfectly balanced. It’s also when you are most likely to experience deep gratitude and grace, because your thinking is balanced, and your expectations are aligned with the way life is.

Maximum growth and development occurs at the border of support and challenge.

When you perceive support without challenge, you’ll tend to feel superficial gratitude. On the other hand, when you perceive support and challenge simultaneously and equally, you’re more likely to feel deep gratitude. Why? Because you become aware that the balance of support and challenge is serving you and helping you on your journey to become more authentic.

Deep gratitude is most likely to emerge when you can embrace both sides of an individual, experience, or goal, instead of having a fantasy of it being only supportive and one-sided.

When you are able to see the order of things and the balance of things, you are more able to realize that the thing that’s challenging you is also serving you. So, instead of avoiding the challenge and seeking the support, you are better able to embrace both support and challenge in the pursuit of something meaningful, the mean between the two pairs of opposites. As you embrace both, you are most likely to experience true or deep gratitude.


What happens physiologically in your brain when you have true gratitude?

True gratitude results in blood, glucose and oxygen going into the forebrain, which activates the executive center, the medial prefrontal cortex. As such, you enter into what is called Systems 2 thinking where you tend to think and act before you react, which leads to more self-governed behavior.  This is very different from Systems 1 thinking when you tend to react and respond impulsively, instinctually. Systems 1 thinking means that your reactions are driven by your lopsided perceptions and resultant emotions.

This is something I teach in my 2-day signature Breakthrough Experience program – how to move from superficial gratitude to deep gratitude, and in doing so, move from your amygdala (where the world tends to run you from the outside) to your executive center (where you tend to run your life from the inside).

In my experience, people often find themselves oscillating between two extremes when dealing with others. When infatuated with someone who seems to uphold your values, you’ll tend to put that person on a pedestal, showering them with admiration and superficial gratitude.

On the other hand, when confronted with challenges that appear to oppose your values, you’ll tend to resent them and relegate them to a metaphorical pit, experiencing resentment and negative or ungrateful emotions.

Like most people, you may find that you try to seek the one and avoid the other, creating a cycle where you become juvenilely dependent on one side, and precociously independent on the other side.

The more poised spot is when your thinking is balanced and you can simultaneously see both the upsides and the downsides of an individual – that they are the sum of their parts, both supportive and challenging.

It's in this equilibrium that you can truly experience genuine or deep gratitude and grace. As I mentioned earlier, it is in this state, in Systems 2 thinking and in the executive center of your brain, that you have the most self-governance and self-mastery.

It may also interest you to know that being in superficial gratitude can create an addiction of sorts when you crave the support and the dopamine fix it brings, and begin actively avoiding challenges.

So, you become trapped in a cycle of trying to avoid that which is unavoidable and seeking that which is unavailable, instead of embracing the present reality for what it is. It's a missed opportunity to acknowledge what is already there and be deeply grateful for it.

I believe this is what my mom was trying to teach me - that even in the face of challenges, there is something to be deeply grateful for.

You may also have experienced an event in your life that you perceived as being terrible, and then a day, a week, a month, a year, or five years later, you look back at it and feel grateful that it happened, because you can see both sides of the equation.

The Demartini Method, a scientific technique that I teach during the Breakthrough Experience program and one I've used with hundreds of thousands of individuals, is a powerful tool in helping you see both sides simultaneously.

The Demartini Method involves questioning that helps you to see the downsides when you are infatuated, and the upsides when you are resentful. Achieving this equilibrium can actually bring tears to your eyes when you feel a deep sense of gratitude, love, certainty, presence, and inspiration.

In essence, the Demartini Method can help you become aware that there are no mistakes in life. It can help you become aware of the magnificence of life.


This form of deep gratitude goes beyond the superficial gratitude, which anyone can experience when things go your way. The real test lies in whether you can express gratitude in the face of challenges?

In my experience, after taking over a hundred thousand people through the Demartini Method, I've demonstrated repeatedly and consistently that if you or I ask the right questions to help you see both sides of things, you can experience deep gratitude.  And that deep gratitude is way more profound than superficial gratitude.

You, like every other human being, store all your polarized perceptions in your subconscious mind - the amygdala and hippocampus in the subcortical area of your brain. You store those for survival mechanisms to help you avoid predators and seek prey. Yet, living in constant survival mode is not the most effective recipe for a fulfilling life. I would far rather thrive than merely survive. 

When you're in your executive center and you embrace both sides, you tend not to be frightened by something or fantasize about it; instead, you tend to be fully present. As such, you are likely to become liberated from the emotional vicissitudes of a charged state, entering a neutral state where you can simultaneously see and feel deeply grateful for both sides.

This deeper form of gratitude and grace is far more profound than superficial gratitude and activates what I call the superconscious mind. The superconscious mind houses deep grace, allowing you to perceive hidden order within apparent chaos, be fully informed, stay mindful, and see both sides.

The superconscious mind also helps you listen to your intuition, which continually whispers what you are unconscious of in an effort to make you fully conscious and see both sides of an event simultaneously. This is what allows you to have more sustainable relationships.

If you are in a relationship and are addicted to the idea that you want your partner to only provide support, never challenge, be consistently kind, positive, and peaceful, you have a fantasy about who they are going to be. When they conform to your expectations, you tend to experience superficial gratitude. However, when they inevitably show their other side, you’ll tend to withdraw, and maybe even decide that the relationship isn't working for you. In other words, you’ll likely be impulsively seeking the fantasy and instinctually avoiding the pain. However, when you embrace both sides simultaneously, you can have a truly loving relationship.

To love someone is to appreciate both sides, acknowledging that they too want to be loved for who they are, which includes their multifaceted nature. Just as you are not one-sided, they aren't either. When they support your values, you can be as gentle as a kitten, and when they challenge your values, you can become as fierce as a tiger. This duality exists in everyone.

It is wise not to expect to lead a fulfilling life based on shallow gratitude. It is wiser to delve deeper, learn to ask questions that help you see both sides simultaneously, and pursue the pairs of opposites simultaneously and with realistic expectations.

This is what I teach people in the Breakthrough Experience: how to break free from fantasies.

Many individuals live with unrealistic expectations and delusions about how life “should” be and tend to become disillusioned when reality doesn't align with their fantasies. As a result, you may grow angry, self-depreciate, and seek to blame others. However, if you automatically expect life to have both sides and recognize their necessity, you will be more fully equipped to navigate life's challenges.


When you automatically expect that life will encompass both sides, and you acknowledge the necessity of both, a profound realization unfolds. You begin to understand that when someone supports you, it can lead to a juvenile dependency, and when they challenge you, you may become precociously independent. It is at the intersection of both that you find the optimal conditions for growth and development.

When looking back on your own life, you may be able to see this taking place. Perhaps you had an overprotective mother, and an aggressive father – the complementary opposites that, combined, form love. It's not about whether one liked you or not; both sides were necessary for your growth and development. When you appreciate and hold both these sides simultaneously, you’ll find that there is very little that can shake your equilibrium because you recognize that life offers a beautiful dance of opposites.

True or deep gratitude is about transcending the need for constant praise and support and not being wounded by challenge and criticism.

Superficial gratitude is within the grasp of anyone, but it often leads to emotional vacillation and imbalance. True gratitude, or grace, is a physiological response to a balanced perspective on life, and mostly occurs when you embrace both sides simultaneously.

True gratitude or grace also goes beyond the surface, allowing you to be proactive instead of reactive. As such, you’ll tend to operate from your superconscious rather than your subconscious, and find power in neutrality and objectivity. This is where the art of differentiation begins, lifting you above superficial gratitude and a focus on survival into a deeper gratitude and a focus on thrival.

To Sum Up:

There are two types of gratitude. Superficial gratitude, easily triggered by moments of support, finds its roots in the amygdala, a part of your brain associated with survival instincts and a deeper form of gratitude, one that arises when you acknowledge the synchronous dualities of life, when you hold both support and challenge in equilibrium. It is in this state that genuine growth and development are most likely to occur.

In the pursuit of deep gratitude, you can free yourself from the emotional rollercoaster of infatuation and resentment. You can learn to see both sides of every experience simultaneously, and in doing so, take control of your own life. When the vision and voice within you become louder than external opinions, you can find mastery in being poised, present, purposeful, patient, and prioritized.

So, as you embark on your journey to embrace both sides of life, to transcend superficiality and find a deeper sense of gratitude, it is wise to remember that your brain holds the key to this profound transformation.

The Demartini Method, which I've shared with hundreds of thousands of individuals, is a powerful way to help you on your journey to authenticity and self-mastery.

I hope that one day I’ll have the opportunity to welcome you to the Breakthrough Experience and  able to share more about the Demartini Method. Until then, I encourage you to embrace both sides of the human experience, to rise above mere instinctual and impulsive reactions, and to unlock a deeper, more meaningful sense of gratitude.


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