“I got legs on my chairs and a head full of hair
Pot and a pan
And some shoes on my feet;
I got a shelf full of books and most of my teeth
A few pairs of socks and a door with a lock
I got food in my belly and a license for my telly
And nothing’s going to bring me down.”
– from Pencil Full of Lead, by Paolo Nutini
If there is one thing that you could do to give your life the oomph it needs to take it up a notch on the happiness-o-meter, that one thing is practice gratitude. Gratitude makes everything better. EVERYTHING. No matter how tough it gets, gratitude makes things better. It may not fix everything, but it will make things better. For sure. And over time, it just MAY fix everything (this statement is my opinion, based on fact and experience).
Here’s why: your brain is made up of neurons (nerve cells). When you do something, or think something, or feel something, or experience something in some way, neurons connect to neurons and create a pathway. The more you think that same thing, or feel that same thing, or experience that same thing, the more used that pathway becomes, and before you know it, it is the go-to pathway in your brain. This is the physical reason that “practice makes perfect,” because as you do something over and over again, you are increasing the likelihood that the something will occur more readily or easily the next time. IF you become accustomed to perceiving the world in a negative way, THEN you are creating and strengthening a thought pathway that is negative in nature. IF you become accustomed to perceiving the world with gratitude, THEN you are creating and strengthening a thought pathway that is positive in nature. Positive = happy.
One really simple and easy way you can create and strengthen a gratitude attitude neural pathway in your brain is to keep a gratitude journal. At the end of your day, write down a few things (the suggestion is usually three because it has been tested and works) that you are grateful for. That’s it. What happens is, you are controlling your thoughts and directing them in a positive direction each day. You reflect on the good things in your life for a moment or two — strengthen neural pathway. You write down a few good things in your life for a moment or two — strengthen neural pathway. You read over last week’s list — neural pathway becoming a superhighway up in there.
Expert Robert Emmons, Positive Psychology Prof at UC-Davis, says that a couple of ways to make your gratitude journal really rock your world is to not overdo — once a week writing seems to be better than every day — and to consciously think of each thing you write about as a “gift.” So, when I list a run in the mountains as something I’m grateful for, I should stop and think: “That trail run in the lovely late-afternoon sun was a true gift in my life.” That way, you are more deeply processing the gratitude, and better establishing the physical brain pathway that changes your perspective.
The subject of gratitude is not closed. We’ll visit it often.
In conclusion, name your blessings, change your brain, improve your life.
peace and love,
Emmons RA, et al. “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Feb. 2003): Vol. 84, No. 2, pp. 377–89.
Sansone RA, et al. “Gratitude and Well Being: The Benefits of Appreciation,” Psychiatry (Nov. 2010): Vol. 7, No. 11, pp. 18–22.
Seligman MEP, et al. “Empirical Validation of Interventions,” American Psychologist (July–Aug. 2005): Vol. 60, No. 1, pp. 410–21.