unfolding into JOY

 
 
What went well? — A Simple Step toward Happiness

Researchers and practitioners agree that gratitude possesses a magic power to bestow happiness. Why would that be? As brain researchers have found, our brain is structured to respond to the negative. Negative information sticks with us immediately, even minor negative experiences, whereas it takes an average of seven repetitions to remember minor positive occurrences. This neuro-mechanism is an evolutionary trait of the Paleomammalian brain in complex vertebrates, including humans, meant to improve their chance to survive. Think about it this way: when you live in the wild an inbuilt alarm system that registers danger and does not allow you to ignore it but prompts you to act on it, is a powerful, life-saving advantage. However, our life conditions have changed. In today's world, there is little need for this inner alarm system. In fact, for many people today this trait of our Paleomammalian brain complex is an obstacle to happiness and well-being. For us, the question of how can we free ourselves from the constant alarm of this sensitive system has become important. Since it is hard-wired into us, we will not be able to disarm the system. But we can retrain ourselves and our brains so that we notice the positive more. How? That is where gratitude comes in.

Gratitude is a marker of a turn toward the positive. Our inbuilt alarm system prompts us to create mental lists of problems. It nudges us to pay attention to all that goes wrong and to emphasize bad experiences. Practicing gratitude aims at turning the emphasis toward the positive. That does not mean that our Paleomammalian alarm system becomes defunct. It continues to exist. But, when we begin to list positive experiences we add a new dimension. By practicing gratitude we create new neurological pathways that begin to register the positive. Instead of mentally listing everything that goes wrong, listing things that go right adds a new perspective. We create a new positive feedback system. Gratitude trains us for a more positive outlook. And what does a positive outlook do to us? It conditions us to more fully enjoy life.

How can you begin a gratitude practice?
Today, i want to invite you to widen your understanding of gratitude. In the most widely used sense of the word, gratitude is directed toward generalities. We are grateful to our friend for supporting us; we are grateful to our mother because she gave birth to us and hopefully nurtured us. We might be grateful for nature, or grateful to the earth, because it sustains us. These are all incidences of the general sense of gratitude. If you get stuck with this sense of gratitude your list may be short and full of repetition. You might soon feel silly writing down the same things every day. That's why i suggest that you expand your understanding of gratitude to specifics. Think of things that went well and include them in your list.

What went well?
Mentally, revisit your day and note the moments in which you felt good: remember the cozy moment with your pet that gives both of you comfort; the moment of heart-to-heart connection with a friend over the phone; the understanding smile you received from a clerk; the way your body relaxed after you exercised; your delight in a beautiful flower. Even finding a parking spot right in front of your destination, or an easy commute, make for things that went well. It does not matter how mundane these incidents are, or how fleeting the moments of pleasure. All that matters is that they uplifted you for a moment, and that you take note of something going well. Start a journal and begin to write down your what went well moments.

The how of starting a gratitude practice
The word practice implies repetition. Our psyche and our body are slow to change. That's why it is important to create a structure with built-in repetition. Make writing down your what went well moments a daily habit. Choose a regular time everyday to make your journal entries. It's most powerful to choose to do the exercise just before going to bed or in the morning, just after waking up. At night, your positive thoughts can effortlessly flow into your dream world. In the morning, you start your day on a positive note. But if neither of these times are practical for you, find another recurring event and connect your journaling with it, for example before you go to lunch. List at least three things that went well in the last 24 hours. Stick with the practice—repetition is what creates a habit. In the beginning you might have to think hard to come up with your list of three moments. Over time, you will notice that your lists flow with more ease and grow longer. If you miss a day, forgive yourself and get back on track right then and there with a new journal entry. Your journal is your witness. As you fill it with positive moments you give credit to the positivity in your life. The effect of training yourself to notice what went well is astounding. All of a sudden your life seems to change from a life that is full of problems and things missing to a life that is full of grace. Try it. Stay with it.


Change takes awareness and discipline – most of us struggle with at least one of the two. It's certainly easier to grow with the support and guidance of a teacher, coach or mentor. If you would like to explore working with me and getting me on your support team, contact me at eva_at_evaruland.com.



 

 


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Eva has been my coach for one and a half years. She has helped (and continues to help) me to become clear and see what I really want and need in my life. With Eva as my coach I have manifested more than I ever expected.
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