Brain Science – Episode #17

Start with gratitude

examining the benefits of expressing thanks

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It’s been said that happy people are thankful, but maybe it’s the other way around. Thankful people are happy. In this episode we discuss the value of and the way that practicing gratitude can improve your overall outlook and mental health. Mireille and Adam talk through some of the underlying neuropsychological aspects of this habit including the key brain structures and neurotransmitters that are affected by practicing this routinely. This is one show that will pay–over and over again–that is, if you’re willing to put the knowledge into practice. Just how “happy” do you want to feel?


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We’ve spent a lot of time talking about habits or ways in which our brain works, that help people be their best selves… And one of those things is with attention. Where attention goes, energy flows. I’m more apt to feed whatever it is I focus my mind on. And I think especially nowadays with so much change going on in our world, in our lives, that we’re really caught up in that competition around our attention.

With that, I just wanted to help our listeners use this time in a way that they could even potentially start to build in another habit, that would be really helpful. Gratitude. Gratitude, ironically, is actually a habit we can practice. Have you ever thought of gratitude like a habit?

To some degree. I don’t know if I’ve ever really framed it as a habit, but it’s definitely something I always try to layer in. Because there’s so much to gripe about, to complain about.

And what not many people know about me is I easily complain. And that’s one thing I don’t like about myself or my attitude sometimes, so I always have to be aware of that. So I feel like if I can layer in some gratitude towards things, or just take stock in the day of like – you know, not so much what went well, but what am I really thankful for; my family… Especially in times like this, you kind of get to the essentials - what is most essential to me? And I guess when you start to take stock of that, it’s easy to find things you’re grateful for.

Yeah. Well, what I love about topics like this is that, you know, other people have spent the time actually researching around this, to go “What sort of behaviors actually do contribute to making a difference in people’s mentality, and henceforth how they feel?” Gratitude, particularly if this is something that you practice regularly, can actually keep you healthier and happier. Who doesn’t want that?

What exactly is gratitude though?

[03:51] Good question. Gratitude really is this sense of appreciation, or recognizing a value, that something matters to you. I think a lot of people utilize gratitude in terms of comparison. Like, I’m grateful that that’s not my struggle, or I don’t have to deal with that… Thinking about it around other people who have other challenges. Or “At least right now I didn’t lose my job, so I should be just grateful, or I should feel good.” That’s not gratitude in a way in which is adaptive. It requires an appreciation of the positive aspects that you actually believe about your particular situation. It’s not comparison.

What about thankfulness? Is thankful and grateful - are those synonymous words? Are they the same?

Well, I think that they’re similar. I can’t think of a way in which I would overtly differentiate them… But I think gratefulness implies this sense of swelling in your heart, of like “My heart gets bigger or fuller. I’m so grateful for something that I have, or an opportunity…”


Yeah. I think an expansion is associated with it. Thankfulness is one thing; I tend to associate thankful with Thanksgiving, and that is you see those 30-day thankful challenges, and things like that, which are great, but what if we were to practice this sense of gratefulness more routinely, as opposed to sporadically?

Do you think maybe grateful was layered on? So thankful is recognition, and grateful is an overwhelming recognition?

Hm. I’ll have to dig deeper, but that fits. It makes sense and resonates, for sure.

Yeah. Well, just kind of having a base of understanding that word, and then if we’re gonna try to ask people to say “Hey, apply this in your life habitually, in positive ways, to become healthier, happier”, we have to understand the baseline of what actually is being grateful, and what is gratitude.

Yeah. It’s really a sense of appreciation, a value I care about, opportunities, relationships… A lot of times I approach this in terms of people navigating the challenging process of grief/grieving, because it’s incredibly painful. There isn’t a way to reconcile and be like “Well, I shouldn’t hurt that bad” or “I shouldn’t feel that sad.” But what researchers have found is that actually practicing this sense of gratitude – you know, you could hurt less if you loved less. So I am so grateful for – like, I think about this with my children, my husband; I am grateful for the opportunities that I have with them, because I’m not in charge of everything that could happen to them, and that would be tragic, not matter what, any way you slice it.

So instead of going and trying to imagine – like, we’ve talked about the distorted thinking, catastrophic thinking; I’m gonna play out every imaginable catastrophe that could occur in preparation for… And that that actually doesn’t help me navigate that situation or event any better, because I’m never gonna be prepared.

What does matter is instead gratefulness or gratitude. I’m grateful that – I mean, I have more of an opportunity right now to spend time with my family. Everybody, I’m sure, has mixed feelings about that, but everybody has something they can be grateful for, and it doesn’t matter, it’s not in relationship to any other person, but rather their particular situation and feelings.

[08:03] You know, too when something you care about is threatened, you kind of take stock more so, like “Wow, I really have these amazing people in my life, these amazing opportunities”, and they’re threatened by something, looming, whatever it might be… And it’s like “You know, these things really matter to me, and I need to change my (we talked about mental frameworks) thinking, my perspective on them. How I perceive them, the value I place in my life”, and I think that’s where gratitude comes in. It’s like, I now see them differently, or in a more different light. There’s clarity involved. The visibility, the panoramic view, so to speak (as you’ve mentioned before) becomes more clear of these essentials, these valuable grateful things in your life.

Right. Exactly, Adam, because when we practice gratitude, it reinforces practices, more positive thinking, which opens your eyes to more opportunity. So there’s a gentleman named Frederickson, who refers to the theory Broaden and Build. Because positive emotions tend to broaden your sense of possibilities and open your mind, which in turn allows you to build new skills and resources that can provide value in other areas of your life.

Negative emotions, like we’ve talked about before, do the opposite. Because if I’m activated emotionally and I am focused on, my attention is captivated by possible dangers or threats, I can’t respond in the same sort of way.

Yeah, you sort of retract.

Yeah. Well, because I’m focused on defense. If I perceive a threat, I’m not gonna just go about my day. I’m going to be like fight, flight or freeze. I’ve gotta get prepared, in whatever way. So that also doesn’t allow me to see broader in any way.

I think I’ve shared this on previous episodes, but when we’re ignited in that fight or flight, we tend to see far and narrow. And when we talk about how we see, and when I’m referencing this concept of sort of with our mind’s eye, I always say it is not the eyes that see or the ears that hear, but it’s the way in which our brain processes the information that creates how we see.

Right. Which is why mental our mental frameworks are important, and perspective, and positive thinking over negative thinking…

Because you can see far an narrow, but you don’t have that panoramic view. You don’t see wide in terms of your – what do you call that…? When you can see really–

Yeah, peripheral vision. I couldn’t get the word in my brain. But yeah, your peripheral vision. You essentially can only see a certain degree in front of you, but your peripheral vision gives you the opportunity to see – I don’t know what the exact science is behind it, but I’m assuming at least 90+ degrees, maybe more; maybe 180…

…for some that are really good at it. [laughter]

Right. Well, it’s interesting that you talk about it like that, because even between my husband and I, we always joke - he’s got the visual aspects and I’m the words; I’m verbal. But his ability to see things is so different than me… So he’ll always be like “How can you not see that?” [laughs] But I don’t, because that’s not what I’ve tuned or practiced my eyes to see.

[11:40] So that’s just it. The reason why this practice or skill is so valuable is because while it might seem small, it’s the cumulative effect that is huge. It has this sort of exponential multiply effect after practicing it over and over again. One of the things that is helpful whenever we’re trying to learn a new skill is create sort of like a hiccup, a way in which it sort of stands out, so that I remember to do this… So people – encouraging them to even literally wrap a present; it doesn’t have to have anything in the box… But that it’s in your visual field when you wake in the morning. Because then you’re like “What can I be grateful for today?”

It’s a fine-tuning of your focus on the positive, not the negative. And that doesn’t mean the negative doesn’t exist. Because I’m thinking, how can we, in today’s world, right this moment, while we have uncertainty looming over us, how can we ask people to find a habit of gratefulness, of gratitude? How can we ask that with the negativity? And I think what it is - it’s not dismissing the negative, it’s preferring the positive…

…while acknowledging the negative.

Precisely. And great word there, acknowledging. I’m not gonna deny that there’s other ill effects, or uncomfortable, unwanted aspects of any one person’s life right now, but rather while that is going on, there is also benefits and blessings within whatever circumstance.

Yeah. Help me out to this list, because I wrote this down thinking about this idea of practicing gratitude… And I thought of it as like a layering of many skills. Some we’ve covered on the show, some we plan to cover in more deeper aspects, but like habits, we’ll talk about journaling and other things you could do to get a framework of gratitude… Marginal gains, where you have consistency of desired habits sort of creating these marginal gains over time. You know, a 1% difference versus, say, a 10%, for example. We’ve talked about mental frameworks (how you think), building in margin, so doing what you can sustain… These all things are layered skills to get us into this practicing gratitude. What can you add to that?

Well, one of the things is – you know, I’m not sure how many of our listeners have heard this, but it’s not recommended that when you wake up, you first look at email.

And the reason being is that it prompts more of this reactive mode, of like “I’m already filtering and have to figure out how to respond.” And so gratitude, on the other hand, is a practice that is helpful to do first, in your top three in the day… Because it sort of sets up your mind, like “This is the direction I want to run for the day.” Exercise is awesome, because that actually helps, and we’ll talk about this more in upcoming episodes… But how it improves cognitive flexibility, so think exercise for the body is like yoga for the brain. It allows you to move and stretch and contort yourself more than you would without the exercise.

So gratitude is a skill or a habit that you can practice, that actually broadens and builds upon other skills, so that you’re sort of in charge more of your mind and how you respond to things.

Starting with gratitude is an interesting concept, because while I’ve considered and have built in gratitude into my life, more so – I don’t know when exactly, but I can tell it’s been in my life and in my mental framework for a while… Maybe not every single day, but definitely a part of my psyche, how I think. It’s a part of how I think. But I can’t say that I’ve started my day with it.

Starting your day with it is different.

[15:46] What you said, that perspective of how you run your day with gratitude - if you begin with it, it’s easy to sort of… It’s already happened, so it’s like – I don’t know if this is a great analogy, but it’s like breaking Spades. If you’ve ever played Spades, the card game, once Spades are broken, you can play Spades. So if you play your gratitude Spade, so to speak, in the morning, first thing, then it’s there all day and you can play that Spade all day long.

Yeah, imagine that you wanna set up the conditions internally so that you can better manage the external environment and challenges that emerge throughout your day. I get into my car, I have a sense of where I’m going to be going. I don’t go “Oh shoot, what was I gonna do? Where was I gonna go?” And I definitely don’t check with anybody else, like “Where were you going? …because - am I going there?”

Gratitude is a way in which – I think about it like setting your mind according to a certain channel. So I’m going “This is where I’m gonna focus my mind”, and I can turn the channel; sure, I can go to this other one, and look at all of the things that are unpleasant, upsetting, unwanted, whatever un- word you can think of. Or I can go, you know what - while those things are happening, I’m also so thankful for X, Y or Z.

One other thing with this is – we mentioned not comparing to anybody else… But also writing it down. Having worked in brain injury, so helping people with memory problems, which often occurs after brain injury, one of the best strategies that we would teach is writing things down. And the reason being is that it enhances attention, and there’s so many more cognitive processes that go along with writing something down… Because I actually have to put my attention to it. I have to reflect on it. Then I have to signal to my supplementary motor cortex “Hey, hand, write these letters. Move in this way.” And then I’m looking at it again. So writing those down - that also has been shown within the research to make a difference with how people feel.

Tim Ferriss – I’m gonna paraphrase something he had said. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this fella or not, but he is super-popular. He wrote a book called The 4-Hour Workweek. That was his claim to fame. He has since done tons of cool stuff. He is an experimenter in many ways. And a day ago as of this recording he shared a YouTube video called “How I take notes and journal.” And in here, one of the things he said happens when you journal is – and there’s different practices of journaling.

They’re not all the same. Like anything, there’s many layers to it, and many different ways you can, and many different styles of journaling to get a certain result. And what he had said was like it’s cementing today’s thought. It’s cementing this idea, in time. It’s a picture, so to speak, of your mind’s eye, of your thoughts, of your framework of thinking, how you verbalize it then, for further analysis, for any reason. I’m paraphrasing what he said; it was just sort of cementing this idea.

Oh, I like it. I like that a lot. I also think about it sort of like consolidating… So it really also hones your focus. Because you wrote it down, it’s clearer and it’s now got form, as opposed to this ethereal, random thought cloud that goes by in my mind. So not just thinking about the things I’m grateful for, but writing them down.

What about de-clogging? You said consolidating, but what about de-clogging? Because if we think about our brains as some variation of a computer, we have a marginal cognitive load we can handle or sustain over time… Removing some of these thoughts, especially around gratitude, so you can get it out, to sort of like de-clog the brain, to move on and do the things you need to do that day.

Yeah, exactly that… Because you are consolidating, defragging… Like, I’m getting rid of the extraneous, irrelevant things. So if you can understand, you are literally training your mind’s eye to see the world in this way, over and over again.

It’s kind of like glasses.

It kind of makes me think “If I can tint the world in a way…” Glasses do that. Sunglasses do that, glasses can do that with transitional lenses… Cooler sunglasses, that are like pink, or blue, or whatever colors… It tints the world.

It does, I love that. Yeah, this hue of – you know, that’s why it improves health, Adam, because you’re actually practicing seeing the upside of all the things. So I can’t help but – if we’re talking about this conceptually, I wanna talk about the science behind it.

Yeah, absolutely.

So one of the things that researchers have found is that practicing gratitude promotes or provides greater activity in the medial prefrontal cortex. So the medial prefrontal cortex - say that five times fast, right…? This part of the brain is an area in the frontal lobe where your two hemispheres meet. And this area of the brain - it does a lot of different things, but it is associated with understanding other people’s perspectives, i.e. related to empathy, and feelings of relief. It’s also massively connected to the systems in the body and brain that regulate emotion and support the process of stress relief.

Who doesn’t want that, right?

Right, exactly. So it actually calms your emotions. We know we’re all going to react to stress, but we wanna be able to come back down. Encountering stress or having stress isn’t a bad thing; it is prolonged stress, chronic stress that doesn’t change. So this medial prefrontal cortex also is linked to learning and making decisions.

There was a study done, and they did functional MRIs, with two different groups. And the first group was directed to think of a recent time in which they felt really grateful, and replay that in their mind… While the second group spoke their gratitude aloud, as though it was being recorded, to be shared with the person they expressed it to.

The scans showed that there was a surge of activity in this medial prefrontal cortex of the brain when the subjects expressed the gratitude that was different from the brain activity seen when these people were feeling grateful, but didn’t express it. So we’re going back and linking this back in - it doesn’t just come from being grateful, but expressing gratitude.

Think relationally - even with your wife, it makes a difference if she tells you something, like “Hey, Adam, thanks for doing the laundry.”

Yeah, right… [laughter]

Thank you.

…as opposed to she just thought it, and you’re like “Hey babe, did you notice…?” and she’s like “Oh, yeah. Yeah, I did.”

Yeah… It’s kind of like “Show me, don’t tell me” kind of thing. Express it is show me, and tell me is sort of just think it and replay the motion.

Yeah. So it’s not surprising that this also relates to how we relate, or have relationships.

It’s the feedback loop, too. We’ve talked about this a thousand times, and ever since I can’t get it out of my brain. Maybe it’s just the way things happen when you learn new things… But this feedback loop - it’s a necessary social component to our lives, that makes us human. So the feedback loop, wanting to have feedback from someone I deeply care about - it’s important to me, and it affects me, in the moment and forever.

[24:02] Yeah, exactly. So not surprising that this practice also activates the brain’s altruism and reward system regions. Another study found that practicing this, what the researchers describe as neuropure altruism, which basically means that your brain craves the experience of giving. I’m gonna give, without expectation of return. So in this study, two groups of participants were asked to write in a journal every day for three weeks. The first group was given general prompts, unrelated to gratitude, while the second group was prompted to write about experiences of gratitude and things they felt thankful for.

Again, when these groups were compared, the results showed that the group that had focused on gratitude had greater activation in this ventral medial prefrontal cortex and this neuropure altruism.

Hm. That’s deep.

Right? And I think about this, because I help so many people trying to navigate relational challenges, and the concept of giving without expectation of return, and how that shouldn’t be linked in terms of resentment. One of the indicators when it comes to boundaries is going “When my resentment button goes off, I know I gave, and I actually didn’t have it to give, because I expected a response. I expected it to be tit-for-tat.

This ventral medial - is that different than the medial prefrontal cortex, or are they the same?

Well, it’s sort of even more specific.

Gotcha, okay.

So medial prefrontal, then ventral medial. So yeah.

But the point is that those who’d focused on gratitude had greater activation in that area of the brain.

Right. So it’s just showing that this literally affects our brain.

Right. And that’s the area that reinforces emotional balance, stress levels, things like that. Obviously, we want to – hey, regulating an emotion is a pretty important thing. If I was up and down constantly, I can’t regulate my emotion, that’s probably not a good person to be around generally, because they may be hard to tame. They’re like an animal.

And if I have high amounts of stress, especially prolonged stress, it’s gonna have negative effects on me in my relationships, my physical body over time, my adrenal glands… All these different things that sort of play a role in managing and dealing with stress.

Yes. So this frontal lobe - again, all part of that same area in the brain - is involved with this perspective-taking. So very much like the forest for the trees. So when I can see things in side by side, or often I’ll reference it like picture in picture, that I can see the broader perspective amidst the mini perspective. That’s why gratitude – it doesn’t mean I’m okay with it, whatever I might be going through. It doesn’t mean this is fun, or I desired X, Y or Z, but rather while X, Y or Z is occurring, or during or amidst this other aspect I also see this blessing, that is good.

What about the aspect – can you kind of go deeper on the… I don’t know if you use the word “addiction” to helping – reframe that for me. Remind me what you said there, because I’m probably framing it wrong.

With altruism and resentment?

Exactly, yeah.

[27:43] Yeah. So relationships are complicated, right? And everybody has different ideas around what it looks like to give in relationship. I always talk about it in terms of you, me and we. So imagine two circles - there’s you, there’s me, and then we both participate in the overlapping portion of the “we”. So ideally, we don’t want it to be like you and me all intertwined, like it’s completely overlapping/eclipsing, and we don’t want them totally separate. But we both participate in this overlap that is how we both want the relationship to go and look like. And sometimes there’s sort of disproportionate giving, dare I say. Like, I give and the other person takes. Or the other person takes and I give. And recognizing when people feel this sense of resentment; it’s sort of our body’s or our brain’s own indicator of like “Maybe I gave something that was beyond what I really wanted to give, because I’m expectant around them giving something back to me.”

So imagine I’m more focused on an outcome, as opposed to just altruistically, like “This is what I want to give, because I can’t help myself, and I wanna give it to you… Because I care about you, I appreciate you etc.”

Yeah, that’s what I heard there, “I can’t help myself.” Not addiction, “I can’t help myself. I want to do it. I just can’t stop, I just have to. I have to be this way.”

Yeah. So an example too I think would be much more along the lines of like at Christmas time, and where I live there’s bridges and ferries, and people will go through the bridges and pay for the people behind them… That didn’t benefit them in any way, but it’s this sense of altruism or do-goodism. And I think that actually that’s very present in our culture nowadays, that we’re seeing more and more people giving because they know there’s a need, and they have it to give.

So leaping over, stepping over a little bit in terms of addiction, that more so related to the same neurotransmitter… But dopamine is involved in gratitude. This is the important neurotransmitter when it comes to pleasure, reward, motivation, attention and bodily movements. So it actually gives you a natural high, creating those good feelings, and motivates you to repeat specific behaviors, including expressing gratitude more often. That’s why dopamine is involved in the case of addiction, but gratitude - I’m not sure that being addicted to it would actually be a bad thing.

I don’t know. You could be overly gracious, overly thankful, constantly… It might get annoying. That may be the downside, the annoyance of like “Okay, I get it. I get it. I mean a lot to you. Let’s move on now.” [laughter]

Well, again, that would be more so than you’re only focusing on…

The negative.

…that side. Yeah.

I think it’s important to really dig deep into this. I love the science behind it, I love the practical aspects of starting each day with gratitude, and tactical things you could do, like journaling to express this, and write it down and cement these ideas… But then you can’t really deny the brain science behind it with the medial prefrontal cortex and all the aspects happening there, the dopamine, the stress levels, the emotional regulation happening… These are all things we all desire. Or if you’re to some degree educated about the human body and your desire for health, these are things you start to really begin to understand.

For me, I didn’t really grok or begin to understand health-related things, especially around food, until my thirties. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t educated in my teens, obviously, because I’m an adolescent, and then twenties, to really understand the health benefits of food, and things like that. So that was the first step into understanding health. Then as you become more and more aware of health and health aspects, gratitude is kind of an easy button.

You know what I mean? It’s kind of an easy button.

It really is. I mean, dopamine is such a critical neurotransmitter, but it’s really what is involved in why we continue to do what we do. If you haven’t, we talk more about this in our other episode on habit formation… But this is what is going to reinforce the repetition of doing it. Showing gratitude also promotes this sort of pro-social behavior, because it sort of runs loopty-loo. So I express gratitude, I feel good, so when I feel good, I’m more likely to spread positivity to those you work, live and play with. So then I want to do more good, because I feel good. And this is a good cycle, or an adaptive cycle to practice.

The circle of gratitude. I like it.

You can’t just help do it. I mean, sure, like I said before, it’s easy to see the negative, and there is in some cases, especially right now, a lot of negativity. You turn on the news, you get negative right away. It’s not not acknowledging the fact that there is negativity, or bad things happening, or things to be sad about even, or to grieve about… But going back to the mental framework, how do we think – you know, neurons that fire together, wire together, that whole thing… The more you focus your awareness and your attention on something, the deeper the roots go. So err on the side of focusing on positivity, gratitude, and not the negative.

Yeah, you’re spot on, Adam, because it really is. Imagine two lanes - the negative is there, and I’m not saying ignore it or deny it, but going “I’m just not going to sort of enhance it, I’m not gonna blow that up in my mind’s eye, so that the negative clouds over any and all of the good that could be in it.”

Yeah. Let’s get practical. You’ve mentioned journaling before. What are some other ways that people could practically implement and practice this idea of gratitude?

I love this – one of the things you can do in the workplace is actually start meetings with what went well. I think especially in creative endeavors, when people are vulnerable, because it’s their creation…

Right, and criticized.

Right. So starting with it with going “Hey, let’s look at what you did well.” You’re practicing tuning your mind’s eye to seeing those things more often alongside some of the challenges that emerge.

I like that. There’s actually a practice in software called Agile. It’s a methodology for producing a product, essentially… And as part of one of the requirements or prescriptions for Agile software development is this idea of a retrospective. So after what’s called a sprint, a time period for which you put towards building something, and then saying “Okay, what did we build? How did it go?”, this retrospective is a time for the team to come together, and part of that is what went well, what didn’t go well, and what shouldn’t we do ever again.

You know what I mean? So it kind of brings that aspect into it. To some degree, that “what went well” is second-nature to many folks in tech or software. It’s an often thing. I love the aspect of retrospective, that’s why I think I loved being product manager so much, is because I really enjoyed the process of the collaboration, I suppose, and the examination of what we did, how well did we do it, how well did we not do it, and what shouldn’t we do anymore, kind of thing. That whole process had a lot of tangible things for me, that I really enjoyed the process. I really enjoyed the process of that.

[36:15] I think that’s really huge, because we’ve sort of talked about this and referenced it in other ways, but that is exactly what happens - practicing gratitude allows you to fall more in love with process over outcomes.

Because if I set myself up – I mean, why do sports get us so much? We could be devastated for the day of “Our team didn’t win”.

It’s true. [laughter]

Yes. So true.

But rather going “I just love the process of competing. It’s so fun - around can I do better? What can I learn from it? What could we tweak or improve upon? What legitimately went well?” Because all of those things sit together. I think that that’s really the way that you can enjoy your life more, because then you’re not vying for or optimizing around trying to cultivate a specific outcome… Like, “I only get to feel good when this happens.”

Yeah. I’m glad you brought the optimizing forward too, because I think it’s what we’re doing with the mental framework, it’s an optimizing for. To me, that idea, what I’m optimizing for, just resonates often. It kind of resurfaces, resonates, it’s the thing I recalculate, reevaluate often, because I have a trajectory of where I’m trying to go in life, generally… But I’m making incremental shifts along the way. One step forward, one day forward to get there.

If I’m optimizing for negativity – we’ve talked to the negative sciences around that… If I’m optimizing for optimism, and gratitude, and the positive sides of things, that’s gonna benefit me so much better. And those around me.

[38:15] Right. I think about the template/mental framework as being able to work with yourself. Because imagine, I might want two different things at the same time, and that I feel disappointed on one hand. But if I can go “Well, you know what - here is the part you did well, and here is the effort you were putting forth in that direction. So even though you didn’t get that outcome you wanted, go back and try it again”, which is encouraging and motivating, as opposed to discouraging and upsetting.

This might be somewhat off-topic – no, it’s on-topic, but it’s tangential. My son has Magna Blocks, and they have magnets. It’s like building blocks, but they’re not Legos where you click them together, it’s magnets. And it’s easy to build something and then let it crash. So he might erect this amazing thing and move it a little bit, and because it’s magnets and they’re not extremely strong, it will crumble. So my immediate response - because it is pretty disheartening to see your thing crash, it’s kind of sad… So my way to counteract that is “Try again.” That’s all I say to him. And I say it in a positive way. “Try again.”

Because that’s what we’re doing - we have things in our life we build, we work so hard to make something, and it crashes, and it’s easy to just say “Oh, gosh…” And you never get back up. You never try again. But it can happen again. Just this aspect of “Try again. Don’t stop. Your effort is not in vain.” The outcome may not have been what you wanted, because it crashed, or it was no longer in the same way it was before, but try again.

Yeah. And that’s life. If you can imagine, what we’re doing is learning how to run sprints amidst a marathon. If I loathe or think “Sprints stink” or I believe I can’t run the marathon”, I am not even gonna show up to the starting line, let alone try to run the race. So imagine you’re sort of hacking yourself, that by practicing this skill of gratitude, you’re sort of creating a cognitive hack to set your brain up to see things in that perspective over and over and over again.

I love it – there’ s a saying that says “It is not happy people who are thankful, but thankful people who are happy.” When we practice gratitude, it allows us to build and broaden not just our mind, but our hearts, and the way in which we see ourselves, our world, and others, so that not only are we feeling better within ourselves, but that then can’t help but affect others in a positive way, too. And I don’t know who can’t get excited about that.


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