The Big Idea
The simple process of reflecting on and writing down things you are grateful for releases feel good hormones and transmitters in your brain (serotonin and dopamine) which in turn helps you train your own brain to see the positive opportunities and aspects in people when they come along.
We all know what it’s like to listen and be with someone who only ever sees the World as a cup half empty. Who comes to mind now? How does this make you feel? (Maybe write your feelings down now.)
Now think of someone who seems to see the positives and possibilities in life. What do you notice about how you feel about them?
Your internal voice is the person, who you live with 24/7. Choosing which voice you cultivate and listen to will ultimately determine your reality.
Which voice would you rather to listen to and so become?
In her book ‘It’s Not Bloody Rocket Science’ our Dulcie Swanston speaks of a Native American parable of feeding which of two wolves that battle within us: positivity or negativity. This is what is happening when you chose to feed the positive (grateful) wolf. You are cultivating that part of your thinking (brain) and growing that part of your personality.
So to live happier, healthier and more successful lives we can, and in fact need, to each take control of our brain’s attentional focus. Acknowledging and recognising the positives is how we begin to steer our own ship with the rudder of our attention; controlling what we focus on and so get.
This reminds us of and the Buddha’s quote: “we are what we think” – and so ultimately to Zig Ziglar’s quote: “it is your attitude, more than your aptitude, that will determine your altitude.”
The simplest and most effective way of doing this is to give yourself a few minutes each day to write down what and who you are grateful for, for that day, that week, in life generally; what compliments you would like to give yourself and what you are learning in the challenges you are facing. Gone on have a go!
Got it…What’s the Science?!
We all have an internal voice and it tends to be the emergent bi-product of our brain’s functioning. Part of it’s evolved role, your brain and your inner voice, is to keep you safe. Now the internal voice for the vast majority of us is better at spotting what could be a threat and what we have done wrong, or others have done to wrong us. It is also conditioned from years and years in school and work to spot what is wrong and to be critical of work and each other.
So what’s the problem you ask?
Well the problem is where your valuable attention goes, the energy flows. So when you focus on problems and what’s wrong, and allow yourself to by not challenging your inner voice, then guess what you tend to see and so get? More problems and ‘see’ and notice more of what is wrong in the World.
This is where your Reticular Activating System (RAS) comes in [Iain’s big word watch]. Part of it’s job is to allow us to filter out unnecessary information and alert us to when something is noteworthy and / or important. So, if we are not careful, it is programmed to be on constant alert to what could be wrong – rather than what could be right. This means we can be in a wakeful autopilot or sleep-walk of noticing patterns that justify our brain’s view that there are no opportunities and nothing goes right for us. Which of course is not necessarily true or really going on.
We believe that the lack of awareness or inability to use this brain science is one of the main restrictors, holding our progress back, hindering us grabbing and making the most of life’s opportunities. Conversely this is a key reason why entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Richard Branson are so successful – because their brains have been tuned through repeated practice to notice opportunities that bring them, and their teams, success and fulfilment.
It is well known that the roots of many psychopathological conditions such as acute anxiety, and stress, even chronic pain are not just related to, but caused by, unhappiness.
Researchers and meditative practitioners, such as Emily Fletcher, have referred to gratitude as a natural anti-depressant, where the impact of daily practicing gratitude, like keeping a gratitude journal or referring to things one is grateful in our daily journals, can be similar to anti-depressant medications.
This is because the process of just thinking and processing, and even better sharing gratitude, releases serotonin and dopamine. These are two key neurotransmitters in the regulation of our emotions. So their release makes us feel good. Also guess what? Your brain seeks out opportunities for releasing these hormones as a reward to what makes us feel better. So the more frequently you are grateful, the more you are going to likely to seek being grateful and so to notice opportunities that we will be grateful for. It’s a positive feedback loop.
Now put this together with your RAS and you have a powerful way of feeling better and orientating ‘automatically’ to opportunities that are going to bring you more happiness and most likely success. You are also more likely to spot positives in people around you and help them to see them for themselves too. These are the kind of people most of us would want to be around and trust too. So you and your brain can become your own mutual best friends and cheer leaders.
And the benefits don’t just stop there!
A raised level of gratitude is known to be associated with a reduction in stress hormones such as cortisol associated with heart disease, the reduced subjective perception of pain; improved likelihood of refreshing and energising sleep; improved ability to deal with stress (i.e. resilience); release us from toxic emotions and memories that hold us back as well as; improving social cohesion with more fulfilled, healthier support interconnections with those that matter most to us.
ALL this from just a bit of gratitude! What are you waiting for?!
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Learn More and Share
Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury, Psychiatric Counsellor on the neuroscience of gratitude: https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude/
It really is a very simple one to try with no obvious pain involved – other than maybe there is a risk of a paper cut…
If you prefer, instead of writing you could doodle your thoughts or even audio record them. It is the process of processing your gratitude (i.e. thinking it out) that is most important here.
This could be the beginning of a journalling habit. So maybe treat yourself to a new journal so you can dedicate some clear and private thinking space. Maybe even enjoy a cuppa tea while you gather your thoughts.
Our verdict: There’s no reason not to try this one!
#the52tips are a collection of new and existing ideas – some of which are widely publicised online. Some of the tips may not be good for you if you have an underlying health condition. If you are at all unsure, please check with your doctor before trying anything we suggest.