Why is gratitude so important?
Besides just being a way to flex your manners, or for marketers to add interest to the month of November, psychologists and research scientists believe that the act of being grateful actually has an evolutionary purpose.
It’s not just fluff for new age fodder.
Why would it be necessary for our survival? Gratitude feels so good, it tends to lead to more pro-social behavior (translation: it makes you want to be nicer to others and vice versa).
Gratitude helps us to focus on the people and world around us, rather than just thinking about ourselves. Even though our culture tends to revere self-sufficiency, one of our key survival mechanisms, for eons, has been our ability to work together.
But even though we need to play nice with others, we also have a negativity bias that can get in the way.
As Dr. Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain says, our inherent negativity bias makes us like tephlon for the good and velcro for the bad. Our spidey senses look for danger lurking in the shadows, instead of focusing on the good that surrounds us.
This hypervigilance is left over from the days when our survival depended on us being able to find lunch rather than be lunch. Its overuse in benign situations of everyday modern life limits our capacity to flourish.
So if you find yourself getting aggro in the drive-thru of Starbucks, think about how grateful you are for the convenience of a reliable car, or the fact that you don’t have to get out in foul weather to warm up with your favorite latte. Gratitude stops your negativity bias from going down the rabbit hole of why having to wait a few extra minutes is going to be disastrous for your day.
It’s hard to stay overly focused on what’s going wrong in your day when you’re actively paying attention to what’s going right.
Your gratitude gravy mission … should you choose to accept it, is to:
Flip your Focus with 3 Good Things
At the end of each day, write down 3 good things that happened during your day. They can be as simple as noticing a hummingbird or as significant as winning the lottery. The key is to be specific.
Do the 3 good things practice every day for the 10 days of this challenge.
Consider what your role was in each of the 3 good things. If one of your good things was that you saw a beautiful sunrise (on a less than grateful morning when your toddler neglected to adjust to daylight savings time) write that your role in that sunrise was that, despite your sleepiness, you took a moment to pause and notice it.
This gratitude intervention, originally created by Dr. Martin Seligman of University of Pennsylvania (one of the founders of Positive Psychology), later endorsed by Dr. Brian Sexton of Duke University, takes your gratitude practice from bland to bold. Your brain is forced to get specific and recall 3 good things that happened that day – not just things that make you feel thankful in general.
At least one of the days of the challenge, spicy up your gratitude gravy by taking photos of your 3 good things or you could even draw them. Keep it simple, you don’t need to hire a plane and sky-write them, just savor your 3 good things in a visual way for variety.
When I first did this practice, I found that it was hard to remember the good things in my day because of my extra loud negativity bias. I would sit down and try to think up 3 good things and immediately think about an annoying interaction I had had or about something that was frustrating me. Then I’d remember that had gotten a really kind client email that day. Or a funny text from a friend. Or that my kids’ teacher had shared something really nice with me.
After a week of the practice, my mindset flipped and I started taking a mental inventory of the good things while they were happening and recalling them at night was so much easier. Suddenly, I was focusing on the good and I had much more than just 3 good things to report!
In addition to doing the practice before bed, you can also share 3 good things at the dinner table. It helps with one-word conversations (because the toddler with the toilet paper rolls photo above is now 12-years old), and we all can fall into the tendency to automatically complain about work or school when asked about our day. 3 Good Things at the dinner table flips that bad habit right on its head.
However you choose to practice 3 good things is up to you, but make a commitment to do the practice every day of this 10-day challenge to reap the benefits of it.