Most of us have something we want more of. We may want to be happier. We may want to connect more to those around us. A better job. Or a better relationship with a significant other, parent, or child. These are all admirable desires, and they take a lot of work.
What if I told you that I have the answer to much of what your heart desires? Well, I do.
It begins with gratitude.
Gratitude can sound like a cliché discussion prompt at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Or a sentiment we write in a card for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. The feelings are real, but the sentiment is rarely felt, and sometimes only superficially.
Wholehearted gratitude feels like another thing entirely. It feels like bursting at the seams with happiness. Appreciation for a friendship that has filled your heart. Or a desire to stay in a moment forever because it is special beyond words.
How is gratitude your answer? The short answer is that gratitude reprograms our brain to see the positive in our lives and, therefore, be able to create more positivity in our lives. The long answer is a bit more interesting and persuasive…
Did you know that our senses pick up over 2,000,000 bits of information per second? Our brains then have to filter that 2,000,000 bits down to a manageable 126 bits. How? By deleting bits and generalizing (and distorting) the input. The brain uses our beliefs and expectations, and what we’ve been focusing on to determine what to delete and what to save. Within nano-seconds, our brains organize that saved data, store it, draw conclusions, tell our bodies how to react, and formulate lessons and learnings.
So, let’s say you’ve been thinking about getting a dog or moving in with your significant other. All of the sudden you notice cute, heart-melting puppies everywhere! Or great and horrible relationships all around you!
What about when you focus on all the hate crimes you see on the news or the fires that are ruining and even taking lives? What headlines scream out at you then?
Your brain seeks what you seem to be seeking. Because you’re focused on what’s wrong, it won’t even bother to register the good news, positive ideas or opportunities that surround you.
But when we spend time feeling gratitude for the good in our lives, our brain takes notice. It sorts through the 2,000,000 bits of information it gets every second, ignores the bad, and pulls out more “evidence” of good. The brain then instructs the body to respond accordingly and comes to conclusions about life that it stores away.
When you practice gratitude daily, you begin to take it on as a trait, because you are what you repeatedly do. If you practice gratitude, you become a more grateful person. And a more grateful person tends to look for the positive. You begin to see the world in a different way when you are looking for things to be happy about.
To benefit even more from your gratitude practice, write a simple thank you note to someone. Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested various psychology interventions on over 400 people. In the week when they were instructed to write and deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for a kindness, the participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores, a much greater impact than any other intervention. And the benefits lasted for at least a month.
I invite you to experiment with a daily gratitude practice. Sit down for 5 – 10 minutes a day and think about an area in which you have goals. Instead of writing about the goal, write with gratitude about that area as it is now. For example, if your goal is a more communicative romantic relationship, write in gratitude about the good things your relationship already is. List every little good thing and maybe even reflect on why it is good. If health is your goal, write about the ways in which you are healthy. Are you able to breathe? Walk? Swallow? As you do this for a few days, notice how your overall attitude shifts to be more positive — and along with it, how your ability to pursue the future improves.