our brains love being grateful

Posted on January 9th, 2013

A quick thought, prompted by something interesting I read during the week…It’s about gratitude. I often wonder why I should be grateful. I mean, apart from the virtuous and religious premises. But, the visceral goodness of it all??? What’s that meant to be about? Is there an inherently worthwhile point to striving for gratitude, one that steers us to be so from an evolutionary POV?

Image via http://www.hartmanfineart.net/exhibition/gallery/36/7/

I feel there should be. I’ve touched on how being grateful helps my life before, and found that gratitude:

“….creates a congruency between our goals and their fulfillment. This moment of recognition that things are geling cooperatively makes you feel synchronicity and oneness with the flow of life. Which feels good, really good.

It’s like in that moment of gratefulness, everything makes sense. We realize all is OK and the world and the people in it are working perfectly, and we don’t need to interfere for it to do so. This is a massive, gulp-for-air feeling, I find. The bigness of life whacks us in the solar plexus.”

But I read a quote from Alex Korb’s book The Grateful Brain in Brainpickings and it builds on things further. Korb explains that:

“Gratitude can have such a powerful impact on your life because it engages your brain in a virtuous cycle. Your brain only has so much power to focus its attention. It cannot easily focus on both positive and negative stimuli. It is like a small child: easily distracted…

On top of that your brain loves to fall for the confirmation bias, that is it looks for things that prove what it already believes to be true. And the dopamine reinforces that as well. So once you start seeing things to be grateful for, your brain starts looking for more things to be grateful for. That’s how the virtuous cycle gets created.”

As always, it’s a matter of choice. You choose to be grateful…and that blocks out negative stuff. You choose to feed it certain information, so you can reap the rewards. Thus, life becomes a self-fulfilling phenomenon with a feel-good slant. More and more I’m practicing this idea of choosing how I want to feel and be, rather than waiting for the precursor to strike. There are many things I feel missing from my life and this “lack” can leave me feeling lonely, agitated, worthless. My insomnia, for instance, plagues me. It wears me down in every way. But I’m choosing to feel grateful for the fact I can function in spite of no sleep. I’m choosing to enjoy the delirium that ensues…it can be rather pleasant if I choose it. I’m choosing to feed myself information that keeps me feeling good. It’s my choice. For, as I say often here, I only have 80-odd years on the planet.

Agree?

 

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  • Ian

    What I love about choosing to be grateful is it helps me forget about myself as I focus on the goodness all around me. All of a sudden I appreciate the world isn’t about me at all, it’s far bigger than little ol’ me; “the bigness of life whacks us in the solar plexus”, to use one of the quotes from above.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    It ain’t about you, Ian!

    [Reply]

  • http://naturopathfionahogan.blogspot.com/ fiona hogan @naturoapthichealth

    Hi Sarah, I forget about your chronic insomnia when I see you so full of action! It is really hard dealing with a chronic ailment and trying to ‘get on with it’. I bleed! I bleed up to 24 days a month, and I’m a Naturopath and help people daily, it’s my dirty little secret, (not now, because I am broadcasting it to your entire audience). Maybe I should try to be grateful for this chronic ailment and surrender peace to it instead of fighting it. Maybe like you I will try to appreciate the fact that I can still function daily. Thanks.

    I write a FB post weekly about being grateful, Thankful Thursday. I find it hard to consciously pick a something every week that isn’t revolving around my children and family. Sometimes, I feel that they are they things I should be publicly grateful for. This year, I will promote greater scope into being thankful that most of our community are good people and how lucky we are living in our amazing country. We really do have a lot to be grateful for. FH

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Hi Fiona… a meditation teacher once said the reason I struggle so much with meditation is so that I can be a better teacher/sharer. It’s the curse of the healer to feel what they teach. makes you REAL! xx

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  • Kay

    Hi Sarah,

    Re the image: I think the original image source was here http://www.hartmanfineart.net/exhibition/gallery/36/7/

    (courtesy of tineye.com reverse image search!)

    [Reply]

    Kristy Reply:

    Also if you ever get stuck for the source of an image, you can Google by image!
    http://www.google.com/insidesearch/features/images/searchbyimage.html

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Wow. Kay. Thank you.

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    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    And to you, too, Kristy.

  • Kerry

    Well I am very grateful to you Sarah! Your blog is my favourite! You are an inspiration!

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  • Mia Bluegirl

    I did this after my father passed away. My stepmother would call me every day after his funeral and we’d say things like, “At least he didn’t suffer. At least he didn’t endanger anyone else (he died of a cerebral anneurysm so was struck quite suddenly.) At least we didn’t have to see him lying in a hospital bed for years.” It helped.

    I’m stuck in a quite shitty place at the moment where I have 3 different doctors to see this month, one who is going to cut me open. So some days I feel like I have nothing to be grateful for and get caught up in my own head and get all shirty about it. And then I call my best mate and say, “At least I am not doing all this medical shit… in India.”

    I think the times where it’s really hard to be grateful is when you need it the most.

    [Reply]

    Adam Cordner Reply:

    Mia, you’re awesome!

    It’s humbling to read your comment knowing that my shit is nothing like your challenges. I don’t really know you, I’ve only ever interacted with you on here, but that shouldn’t take away from me being really moved by your comment and the honest feeling I have of hoping everything works out . I’m sorry I couldn’t be more eloquent but I think you get the drift.

    “When life gives you lemons, add vodka, lime & soda”

    [Reply]

    Mia Bluegirl Reply:

    Adam, you are a sweet and generous soul, thank you. x

    I feel bad whinging when I am not degeneratively or terminally ill. There are others out there who are so much worse, I feel awful for being a brat about things, and being scared. You can always find someone worse off, if you look. I wish it was possible to feel gratitude and compassion with the comparison!

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    Alison Jose Reply:

    Hi Mia – my heart goes out to you and to Sarah for having chronic problems – and with my 28+ years of seaching the world for help for my disorder (kinda like fibromyalgia but not was the diagnosis for constant muscle paralysis and chronic inflammation) – its funny because I found my help in India – haha hah. Its Ayurveda treatment and Im going back there on Sunday for 6 weeks to have another life altering treatment after having a 14 day Panchakarma treatment nearly 5 years ago that resulted in me being “fixed” and having a miracle baby.

    Since only a few months now Ive been walking the Ayurveda path and its help with the re-surgence of my problem, and turning mostly vegan has made the most profound effect so I will be dynomite after another Ayurveda treatment as its about disease prevention and anti-aging and I feel like Im living proof.

    Also wanted to say that I consiously made a choice to appreciate, love and feel grateful for my disorder. It has led me on a great journey of self love, and many discoveries that I would not have had. So it was a gift. Our physical illnesses are about asking us to pay more attention and love ourselves, perhaps in a way that other “healthier” people dont have to do.

    It is a gift and I think its the Gyuto Monks of Tibet that say its a far greater sacrifice to release the pain than to be in it. That also helped me too to have the courage to say, I dont need you anymore. Im about to start a blog called anAyurvedaJourney so will ping you’all when its up. Love and light Alison Jose from Prana Healing Holidays

    [Reply]

    Mia Bluegirl Reply:

    Alison your story is lovely. I am glad you found what has healed you, and congratulations on your miracle baby!

    You are right. To release the pain and be completely open to life would be to admit that it can happen again. If I am stuck in my toxic “rock bottom” headspace, at least I am safe to an extent. I’m not there yet in terms of courage. One day I will again be grateful for all aspects of my journey, as I was at once stage about a year or so ago, but for now I am still working on accepting it all. I am working on acceptance presently in my yoga practise and it’s soooo hard which is I think how I know it is doing something.

    I’d be interesting in hearing more of your story, please stay in touch & keep us updated.

    [Reply]

  • Brooke

    Perfect timing on the post sarah! exactly the thing needed to get out of mid week funk – now trying to open my mind to the many things I could and should be grateful for thanks again sarah

    [Reply]

  • http://www.mikewilde.com mw

    Holding strong in gratitude is a test that I have failed miserably on many occasions ..

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    It’s in the failing you get better at it. Struggle. Struggle will make i work.

    [Reply]

    mw Reply:

    Aah Yes .. my old friend/foe Struggle.
    Cheers !

    [Reply]

  • http://n/a Lauren

    Great post, I think the difficulty we all sometimes face with being grateful all the time is that it’s easier to focus on the negatives because you are reminded of them every day. I think to myself why should I be grateful to have irritable bowel syndrome and spider veins on my legs. How is it fair that I can’t go anywhere without knowing where the toilets are, and how is it fair that I don’t feel comfortable wearing shorts or bathers? When I have one of these thoughts I try to turn it around… having ibs means that I have to take care of my health (in particular what I eat) so that means I stay healthy in many other ways. Plus my legs work.. I can walk, run, play. They do every thing I need them to do!
    It’s about doing continuous work to remind ourselves how lucky we are because it’s so easy to fall into the negativity trap.
    Love your work Sarah, I really look forward to your new posts each day.

    [Reply]

  • Jane Wheatley

    I am a grateful member of two 12 step programs and am now 17 years in recovery. We have a saying to practise the attitude of gratitude which I confess I need to be reminded of..I am definitely grateful for my clean sober life today!

    [Reply]

  • http://www.adamcordner.com Adam Cordner

    I agree.

    I just got off the phone with someone who said “just be grateful for what you have” before I read your post, are you Incepetioning me?

    This is a timely reminder, I’m having really bad nights sleep stressing about the next big career move and matters of the wallet, and like most 1st world problems I shouldn’t really be sweating it. When I get that “its OK” moment the pain in my left arm goes.

    I don’t know if choosing to be grateful blocks out the negative for me, but giving that stuff air surely helps diffuse any anxiety that comes with it.

    Maybe the act of Thanksgiving has a place not just in North America? Taking a moment to be thankful and grateful.

    One of the most powerful things I think is being grateful for others (what is happening to me? I used to be a real jerk on here) it’s hard to do, well for me it is, but it makes some relationships more tolerable.

    When I have trouble sleeping a like a Scotch like the Ardbeg 10 years, mmmmmm smokey.

    [Reply]

    Kate Reply:

    Adam, I don’t think you were previously “a real jerk” but more a refreshing alternative point of view to the sycophants that at one time seem to dominate the comments.

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    seeker Reply:

    same. i thought you were funny!

    [Reply]

  • http://www.joyoflittlethings.com annemarie

    wow I love this post, that is so true…

    re the image: I just saw it a couple of days ago in an exhibition in London in the Tate Modern if anyone is interested, it’s by William Klein he is such an amazing photographer!

    [Reply]

  • Mel

    After working on an oncology ward watching young women being consumed by tumors in the wost places, it was a lesson in being grateful daily and yet you can still become blasé. In fact it’s a coping mechanism to be able to do the job everyday. After 8 years things like becoming a barista started looking like a great career move, the luxury of worrying how a coffee looks and tastes appeals immensely. All baristas be grateful!!!

    [Reply]

  • Lisa Ingram

    Tim for a re-read of ‘Pollyanna’ – always loved the ‘glad game’. Useful when you’re 8 and your mum died – still so today. I’m 47 – yay, made it this far!

    [Reply]

    Felicity Reply:

    Lisa: I recently downloaded “Pollyanna” onto my Kindle and re-read it for the first time in 30+ years. I don’t tend to comfort eat but I definitely comfort read from time to time, often (but not always) books I loved as a child. Reading Pollyanna again was great fun!

    Sarah: I’m a recent subscriber to your site and love your work. Thanks so much for your inspiring and thought-provoking posts.

    [Reply]

  • Jenna

    Great post Sarah!

    I’ve started doing this recently – making a conscious effort to me more grateful. I find the most interesting and inspiring people are those who have had it rough, but still manage to say, ‘Well at least I’ve got this going right for me’. You often hear that people who’ve been in a car accident or have a terrible disease or illness.

    I’m not of the belief that we have to feel positive and happy all the time, everyone feels heavy hearted, that’s normal. But being grateful for what you have is very different. It really gives you a different perspective, makes you see the world in a much bigger picture.

    Thanks for sharing the book too – I’ll look that up!

    [Reply]

  • jan

    Hi Sara, love this reminder, thank you.

    I hear you talk about your insomnia, and want to pass on something that really helped me. I had insomnia for about 8 years and tried everything. Finally came across Brenda from here: http://www.sleepeasy.com.au/AboutUs.htm and it has changed my life! It makes such a difference to have no more sleep problems – I wouldn’t have believed that was possible for me. Brenda is lovely and the technique very easy to learn. It might be worth your looking into – it’s something I am very grateful for!

    Thanks for such a wonderful blog….

    [Reply]

    Jodie Reply:

    Jan, thank you for tip re Brenda and the Sleep Easy program. I’ve struggled with insomnia for years too and I’ve decided enough is enough! 2013 is my year to get serious about tackling it. Can I ask how many sessions you had with Brenda before you started seeing results? And does she offer counselling as part of the program? Thank you!

    [Reply]

    jan Reply:

    Jodie, I started getting results from my first visit. I had individual sessions with Brenda and probably had about 4 – 5 visits. Probably a good idea to give her a ring and have a chat to find out what approach would be best for you – she also offers workshops.

    Jan

    [Reply]

    Jodie Reply:

    Thanks Jan!

  • http://www.livehealthysimply.com Jessica Nazarali

    Lovely post Sarah. Whenever I’m grateful I find life flows and more abundance comes my way. My aim is to make the choice to be grateful everyday.

    [Reply]

  • Nicole

    A timely post! Thanks Sarah. I was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer last year, it’s really easy to get stuck in the suckiness of that diagnosis. I’ve just started a meditation course today (based on Full Catastrophe Living, I think, I only just did week 1). And I decided instead of a 2013 resolution, I’d starte a grateful tumblr – http://nicolefwilson.tumblr.com/

    Even though it’s only been 10 days since I started, everything you say above resonates with posting my grateful tumbl’s.

    I came here to investigate quitting sugar and my physical health in the face of cancer. Must say, I think I’ve got more from your emotional and spiritual posts – even though the IQS stuff is great too.

    Thanks, I’m grateful for your blog :-)

    [Reply]

  • Ania

    Hello Sarah
    Fantastic article, thank you for focusing on this subject. Finding more things to be grateful for is my aim in 2013. It is true with getting into gratitude cycle your brain like happy puppy starts to point and look at thing you can be gratful for – I love it.

    By the way I had insomnia on and off for 15 years, it was quite severe. So I totally understand that sometimes when you tired in the morning it is much harder to focus on positive. Still it so much better to get up being grateful for life no matter what.
    I am sure you must try all there is for your insomnia for me what help and cure it was 10 day of Vipassana meditation and homeopathy. I am very grateful that I can enjoy my sleep and dreams and wish the same for you.
    Lots of Love Ania

    [Reply]

  • seeker

    i really like these thought provoking posts which bring such insightful comments, thanks everyone! i sure am grateful! :) xo

    i was brought up an irish catholic and (while not a fan or organised religion per se) i am very grateful for parents who reminded me at every opportunity to be grateful for all i had and with what i was blessed, whenever i let a whinge out!!! some may (and do!) say this is guilt tripping, but im taking it and running with it …

    at the end of my yoga class i ask my students to think of 2 or 3 things in their life for which they feel grateful …. just to help us all remember what’s important to us … and to invoke that yoga feeling!! everything is alright … ;)

    two things i am always grateful for are books (incl cookery books :) ) and music, because they can be an escape if i want to use them that way – shut down/intensify …. OR they open up my imagination, they can inspire me to create and overcome ‘stuckness’, and remind me to sing out loud (best therapy!)

    … and the best thing is: they will always be there, no matter what (and who) comes and goes … no matter what my financial position throughout my life …. and i will never run out of new books or music in my lifetime!!!

    what a thing for which to be grateful! :)

    [Reply]

  • Trish

    I’m a former English teacher, Barbie, and I would give you full marks if you were in one of my classes! Well done.

    [Reply]

    Barbie Reply:

    Thank you for your comment Trish,so nice from you!

    [Reply]

  • Trish

    Pollyanna has had unnecessarily bad press! She enjoyed life, and had worked out how to do it, and isn’t that what we’re all striving for?
    My take on it is that our Western economy is built on dissatisfaction i.e. we are told we need to buy stuff to be happy. If you are naturally grateful, you don’t feel such a need to spend, and there goes the economy!

    [Reply]

  • Anthony

    Sarah, I really appreciate your sleep deprivation, and suffered from it myself for many years until I was introduced to a book called, Sleep Without Drugs, by Dr Moses Wong of Melbourne. This wonderful man had trouble sleeping, and he set about finding out why people around him were naturally going off to sleep and he couldn’t. This book is a treasure. I now don’t have a problem with sleep, and if I do, I know why.
    In regards to gratitude, giving and receiving, that is one of the nice thing about living around others. A doctor friend of mine made an interesting point some years ago, that we humans are hardwired to live in community with others. I couldn’t agree more.

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