The purpose of our brain is to keep our bodies alive. Simple right? Yet, with somewhere around 200 billion neurons and hundreds of trillions of possible synaptic connections, there’s a lot of noise that can be produced by all those nerve cells communicating with each other. To put it in perspective, there are more synapses in the human brain than stars in 1500 Milky Way galaxies. Scientists now have the ability to “map” these synapses and capture them with highly sensitive, specialized imaging technology. It literally looks like stars in a dense, dense galaxy.
In order to keep the body alive, the brain is set to scan for danger. Find the negative. Find possible danger and keep you safe, no matter what. Well, danger now isn’t what it was thousands of years ago. What started out as simply being chased and/or eaten by a saber-toothed tiger progressed to include threats from other humans as well. Now, all these years later and the ability to read micro-expressions in the human face, the risk isn’t imminent death by claw or club.
Now, our greatest perceived danger is the opinions of other people.
We are very, very concerned with what other people think of us. Just go check your Facebook feed. Or Instagram. Or Twitter. Or watch the news. Or talk to your neighbor.
Or listen to yourself.
So fabulous right? What does this have to do with gratitude?
There is also solid research out there, initiated by Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, who is considered to be the founder of Positive Psychology, about the power of gratitude. After conducting randomly-assigned placebo-controlled experiments since 2001, his team found that people were less depressed, had less anxiety, were more happy, had less stress and other positive life experiences after having a regular gratitude practice.
The practice is so simple you won’t believe it.
Write down three things you are grateful for each night for one week. Just one week! His findings concluded people were still less depressed and happier a month after only doing this exercise for seven days.
I know, you’ve heard this before. But have you done it? Every night? Write it down. Keeping it your head doesn’t count. I will admit I haven’t done it consistently.
And not only write it down, but be specific. Not just, “I’m grateful for my family. I’m grateful for my dog…” They don’t have to be grandiose or huge, just significant to you that day.
Next to each gratitude, ask the question, “Why did this happen?” This gets the brain thinking about the blessings, the good things that happen to us each day and why they occurred.
The practice of gratitude overrides the brain’s constant danger-seeking mode and trains it to see all of the good in our lives. It brings us into the present moment. Even when we are in a good place and know how fortunate we are and feel we are grateful, there is space to uplevel our brain activity to perform more consistently from a being of happiness and calm focus.
I am committing to do this exercise for seven days and report back here next week with what I find in my own life.
Who wants to join me?
I’ll be posting on Facebook as well so you can follow along there.
With gratitude and love,