Our brain has a built in negativity bias and that was probably a good think when we had to fight to survive. Identifying threats quickly helped us survive. But we don’t really live in that world any longer despite historical and biological programming to respond more to negative stimuli.
Starting my gratitude list was a huge tilt for me toward taking in the good. Despite my general disposition to be positive and optimistic, I found myself focusing too much on what went wrong, what was difficult, what didn’t get done, and what I was missing in my life. I was feeling pretty crappy about the state of my life even though “objectively” it was pretty good.
When I started practicing a daily gratitude list, I challenged myself to focus on just 5 things I was grateful for. Sometimes they were simple and seemingly small – the sound of my daughter’s laughter. Sometimes they were more complex and layered – gratitude for a difficult conversation with a colleague that aired tough issues. Some days all I could find to be grateful for were the basics on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – I had food in the fridge, a place to sleep that was warm and dry, running potable water, a healthy family. Those days were often the days that I felt the least grateful for my life, but reducing it to the basics made me appreciate that (a) I live somewhere where I am not struggling for the basics and (b) I am not struggling to pay the rent and feed the kid. Put into perspective, life can’t help but feel better.
Research shows by programming your brain to focus on good experiences – not ignoring though parts, just changing the focus – you become more resilient, confident and happy. And feeling that, more capable in coping with the tough stuff.