Daily gratitude journaling! It’s a great habit to get into. Our minds have been naturally trained to spot the threat to ensure survival. This leads to the observed negativity bias. Studies have shown that when presented with frowning face, we will find and process the frowning face much faster than if the experiment is reversed. Again, this is wonderful for survival…not so good for happiness! And since we no longer have saber tooth tigers chasing us down the prairie, maybe it would be a good idea to train the mind to focus on the smiling faces a bit more often. (See Facial Expressions of Emotion: Are Angry Faces Detected More Efficiently? and Finding the face in the crowd: An anger superiority effect.)
Since we have this tendency of focusing on the negative and constantly try to resolve some kind of problem in our lives, we often overlook all the great things we have already, right now! We quickly grow so accustomed that we hardly notice it anymore. It is only when we are deprived of our blessings that we recognize how grateful we should have been. So it might be a good idea to intentionally deprive ourselves of luxuries every now and then, but I’ll leave that for another post.
Instead of hitting the Facebook feed or even worse, the news, first thing in the morning, I am starting the practice of writing out 3 simple things that I am grateful for in my life. And I mean actually writing them out, with pen and paper. Otherwise the temptation is too great to just brush over this with a yeah, yeah! – that’s all fine, but what about my problems! Taking the time to appreciate things will not only put us in a better mood, but also make us less fearful.
Dan Baker, Ph.D. describes in What Happy People Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Life for the Better how it is physiologically impossible for a human being to be in the state of gratitude and fear at the same time. From my own experience I know that I make better decisions and that life in general is just a bit better when there is more gratitude and less fear involved. I believe that this can be trained like anything else. It is not the default mode, but takes actual effort to change mental habits over time.
However, it is a really worthwhile practice, because without appreciation, any achievement is really empty and simply leads to the quest for the next mountain to climb.
Today I am thankful for being able to write and share some ideas that hopefully help somebody, just like others were able to help me with their writing.