“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” ~Marcus Tullius Cicero
“Our mindset can shape the objective world around us,” writes Shawn Achor in his bestselling book The Happiness Advantage. He writes,
We can cultivate a positive mindset–and capitalize on this positivity to move ever upward. We want to push the limits of possibility as far as they can go, not limit them in the way too many discouraging bosses, parents, teachers, or media stories tell us they should be limited.
Many of us have been conditioned to scan for the things that are wrong in our environments at work, home and in the world at large. Doing this all the time reduces our ability to create, increases anxiety, and diminishes our ambitions and energy. However, instead of constructing a mental process that looks for negatives and obstructs success, we can train our brains to search for possibilities and concepts that foster success. It takes practice to direct your brain to focus on the positive. Achor believes the most helpful way to do this is to make a daily list of what is good in your life. He writes,
When you write down a list of “three good things” that happened that day, your brain will be forced to scan the last 24 hours for potential positives–things that brought small or large laughs, feelings of accomplishment at work, a strengthened connection with family, a glimmer of hope for the future. In just five minutes a day, this trains the brain to become more skilled at noticing and focusing on possibilities for personal and professional growth, and seizing opportunities to act on them.
I have worked with gratitude lists before as a way to focus my perspective on the positive, and I believe there is always merit to writing down the highest aspects of any given situation. For instance, if someone is annoying you, writing down a list of their positive attributes can be helpful in redirecting your thoughts about them. However, working with Achor’s “three good things” has helped me reduce my attention on the smaller grievances and irritations that used to occupy my mind. After all, our brains can only think about so much at one time. I’d rather mine be focused on what it is already working so I may build upon that. The results of this practice are inspirational. Achor writes:
One study found that participants who wrote down three good things each day for a week were happier and less depressed at the one-month, three-month, and six-month follow-ups. More amazing: Even after stopping the exercise, they remained significantly happier and showed higher levels of optimism. The better they got at scanning the world for good things to write down, the more good things they saw, without even trying, everywhere they looked.
Be as specific as you can about each moment, then write two or three sentences about how that moment felt, using as many adjectives as you can to express how and why it felt good. Do this every day. Or, if the daily practice feels overwhelming, try writing about a positive experience for twenty minutes three times a week. The benefits are yours to receive!
Are you currently working with gratitude lists? Excited about trying this process? Share your thoughts and results in the comments!
~Storm Arcana (415) 260-2903 / firstname.lastname@example.org