What’s The Most Important Question To Ask When You Feel Blue?

What’s the most important question to ask when you feel blue?  The answer, from neuroscientist and UCLA researcher Alex Korb, (also the author of The Upward Spiral) is simple: What am I grateful for?

What am I grateful for?

Gratitude, it turns out, boosts the neurotransmitter dopamine, the same thing that Wellbutrin does. It also boosts the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is Prozac’s specialty.  And gratitude is a whole lot cheaper. 


Thanks to medium.com for the image.


Thinking of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.

But wait, you say. My life is a country western song on steroids. I can’t find a single thing to be grateful for. 

Korb consoles us with, IT DOESN’T MATTER. “You don’t have to find anything,” he says about your gratitude search. “It’s the searching that counts.”

One study found that remembering to be grateful actually made remembering-to-be-grateful easier. It has to do with  neuron density in the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex. (Oops, that just slipped out.  Sorry. I won’t do that again.)

What’s the takeaway from this exciting research?

I turn to my refrigerator magnet collection, my repository of my philosophy of life:


I’ve had this magnet on my refrigerator for many years.


Of course, just beneath it is this one, an early gift from Woody:



Yes. I think the lesson is simple: look around you and see what you already have. Then, commit to being grateful for it, even if it’s a black cat that hogs the middle of the bed.  The research promises it’ll get easier in time.

How about you? What are you grateful for today? 

NEXT WEEK: Come along with me in my search for a blog post topic.

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28 Responses

  1. Carolyn
    | Reply

    Be grateful for the little things in life, I feel, like the scent of a rose, the ability to be educated, or seeing a sunset. I am grateful to my parents for giving me resilience and a desire to learn everything about everything. We are so lucky. With these little pieces of joy we can face the bad parts of life saying “These things shall pass”

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I was writing this post when we got hit with that last big snow storm here in Vermont, Carolyn. So, I practiced this gratitude lesson on that snow storm. Surely I could find something to be grateful for in it. Yes! I got an extra cup of tea and a fun Facebook post out of it. So, there is always something. AND, we can be grateful for the “This too shall pass” saying too, of course. Thanks for stopping by and starting us off.
      Janet Givens recently posted…What’s The Most Important Question To Ask When You Feel Blue?My Profile

  2. Bernadette Laganella
    | Reply

    I think the telling part of your post is just the sitting with yourself and concentrating on gratitude is enough to make a change. I have found that just sitting in a meditative mindset always makes me come away with peace and therefore gratitude for the peace.
    Bernadette Laganella recently posted…SUPERMOMS – FOSTER MOMSMy Profile

  3. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    It is interesting that even thinking about what makes one feel grateful–the searching for it–is valuable.
    Right now, I am grateful for these beautiful spring mornings and evenings full of bird song. (But also, my cats.) 🙂
    Merril Smith recently posted…Muddled–QuadrilleMy Profile

  4. susan scott
    | Reply

    Thanks Janet – I like that appreciating the simpler things in life increases serotonin! Nothing like a walk (just back from one), or watching the shadows lengthen in my garden, or finding something I thought I’d lost are all things and much besides that I’m very grateful for indeed!
    susan scott recently posted…A to Z Zooming in on LilithMy Profile

  5. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Janet, it’s an absolutely beautiful morning here in Boise. Pleasantly cool, but heading to 75. The birds are chirping, our chickens are making their morning noises, the yard is lush, and the garden almost fully planted out. A good day to read your blog and squeeze in a bit of mountain biking. Grateful for our friendship :).

  6. Ally Bean
    | Reply

    Today I am grateful for blue skies and a quiet afternoon when no one is mowing their grass and using a leaf blower afterwards! A rather rare occurrence here in the ‘burbs.
    Ally Bean recently posted…No Stories Here, Only The Remains Of My Inspiration FileMy Profile

  7. Susan Jackson
    | Reply

    The fact that I am still alive at 66, that I saved enough in my retirement account and I am not struggling in my middle age. My son is still alive after being on kidney dialysis twice. I finally found a good man after 5 failures. My mom is still alive and kicking at 87 and I have a sister that I love dearly and enjoy traveling with—I guess I could go on and on which is great considering how many times in my younger life I wished I was dead!!

  8. Susan Jackson
    | Reply


  9. Susan Jackson
    | Reply

    Aaah, was it my knee?

  10. Susan Jackson
    | Reply


  11. The Recipe Hunter
    | Reply

    I am grateful for waking up each morning, be it with a pain or without one because that indicates that I am still in this world

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks Esme. Good reminder of how much we can sometimes take for granted.

  12. Jerry Waxler
    | Reply

    In addition to the many things I could list, the point you are making in the post is that I am benefitting by simply searching for that list. So at the top level, thank you for the post!! For years, I’ve been quoting Oprah who is the pop culture maven of gratitude – but now thanks to your reference, I can learn about the neuroscience. I’ve ordered a copy of the book you are quoting – I can’t wait to learn about the wiring. Thanks for all you do to throw good cheer and good coping out into the world.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Jerry. Good to see you back again. Wow; you have placed me in the same sentence with Oprah. I’m delighted. Enjoy the book. I hope you’ll post one of your delightful reviews when you are finished.

  13. Becky
    | Reply

    I like to start each day with a fresh start. Grateful to have had a good nights sleep in a warm bed. Grateful to be able to see my children’s beautiful smiles as they wake up. Gratitude is everything, it’s so powerful.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hello Becky. And welcome. Gratitude is indeed powerful, more so than we’ve ever realized. Thanks for stopping by.


  15. Cherie
    | Reply

    Today is a beautiful, sunny and slightly cool day in Germany. It’s lovely to see, but I am looking out the window as I have developed a Spring cold. Head feels stuffed up, like I have an old sock jammed in there(I don’t). Cough, crud, feeling bad. Today I am grateful for tea, and Amaretto, and a wonderful husband that works very hard so that I can live a new life here. Lot’s to be grateful for, and it’s fun to think about all of the reasons.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Cherie. Glad you hear it’s not an old sock jammed up there. Another thing to be grateful for. 🙂 It is fun to explore what else we can be grateful for. Tea with Amaretto? Now there’s a combination I must remember. May your gratitude outlast your cruddy cold.
      Janet Givens recently posted…FINDING MY TOPICMy Profile

  16. Heena khurana
    | Reply

    Nicely written 😊
    We should always focus on the positive aspects of life.

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