Before you relegate this little post to the shelf of “also-rans” in the self help section, I’m going to BOLDLY STATE that the CORRECT application of a gratitude practice can and will shift your entire outlook on life.
You see, further investigation about this whole “gratitude thing” reveals that on a purely pharmacological level, ie how your brain and body react, this stuff is about as potent, if not more potent than doing an hour of high-intensity exercise at the gym. If you think that a gratitude practice is “weak sauce” hang on because the effects are physical and long-lasting.
Freud said that
”Our possibilities of happiness are already restricted by our constitution”
-essentially he’s saying that we’re hard-wired to expect the worst…
We are programmed to cope with a field of external circumstances that are raging against us every day. (checked your FB timeline lately?)
We bear the burdens of our own dark thoughts on a daily basis and if that were not enough, we take on the pains of others, which does not exactly pre-dispose us to being happy campers all the time.
It’s not that we’re morbid creatures. It’s because we are programmed to deal with the dark before the light. The dark is a place where things loom. Threats will grow. On a really primal level, we’re more attentive to the dark, than to the light, because our survival depends on it. These are defensive circuits.
The other side of the coin involves our Pro-social behaviors or what we experience as happiness… When we are connected socially, we thrive. We have appetitive circuits in the brain that are designed to move us closer to the details of these experiences. Sharing a delicious meal with a loved one will make these circuits light up.
What’s amazing is that these pro-social appetitive circuits can literally reduce the aversive or defensive behaviours that highlight our morbidity as humans. These behaviors, like looking for that which looms ominously in dark places, are reduced when your pro-social behaviors become more active. We have this see-saw in the brain. On the one hand, we have the mushy stuff, the smile you get from petting your dog, things you want to be closer to and want more of…the happy space…. our defensive circuits associated with backing-up, fear, exist on the other side of this metaphorical see-saw.
It’s quite possible that nature has set us up with an asymmetry on purpose. Call it basic survival.
Thing is, there are fewer saber-toothed tigers around nowadays, so we’ve outgrown our pre-disposition towards morbidity somewhat. It’s time to pucker up and lighten up, and what better way to move into a happier, lighter existence, than with a practice that will kick your ass into a happy space.
Think of a time when someone exhibited empathy towards you, or did something that you were grateful for. Close your eyes and re-tell that story in the mind’s eye. Feel the gratitude you experienced at the time. This is not the same as repeating “I’m happy and awesome” 20 times and then going into your day, and kicking the cat.
You have to re-live a previous experience because the relevant neuro pathway has been forged already. (Humans are story-driven creatures and when we tell ourselves a story within a context, this lends stickiness to our thoughts)
Re-enforcing this pro-social behavior will shift your mind away from morbidity and toward happiness, lighting up the pro-social area’s of your brain. … and with enough practice, you’ve re-programmed yourself a smile on your dial… Don’t worry. There will be enough time to spot the saber-toothed tiger when it lunges. This small little habit can gradually and dramatically shift the axis of your daily focus from fear-based, to light-based thoughts, also known as happy thoughts…
Give it a whirl