As always in the U.S., November is special because of the Thanksgiving holiday, a time to gather with family and friends and reflect upon our blessings. Some of us have more obvious blessings than others, but gratitude, even in times of hardship, is possible. Unfortunately, because of the way the brain functions, all the good people, opportunities, events and other positive things in our lives are easier to overlook than celebrate.
Our brains have a natural “negativity bias,” also known as the negativity effect, that allows negative things (experiences, thoughts, emotions, etc.) to have a greater psychological impact than than positive things. Think about it: When was the last time you ruminated about something fantastic? As psychologist and author Rick Hanson, also a senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, is known to say, “The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.”
An important practice in the art of happiness is to reverse that tendency, and gratitude is the key. In return, scientists find that focusing on the positive has many rewards:
• lower blood pressure and a stronger immune system;
• increased optimism, happiness and resilience;
• more positive emotions and improved relationships;
• better sleep;
• feeling less lonely or isolated;
• and a greater ability to be generous and compassionate.
Overcoming negativity bias takes vigilance, so even if you already practice gratitude, we invite you to try this challenge: Every morning or evening for the next week, set aside a minute to write down where you’d like to focus your gratitude that day. After that, close your eyes and sit still for a moment to focus on that thing or person in a positive way that generates a warm feeling inside. That feeling is gratitude, and once you feel it, take a deep breath and let it meld with your consciousness.
If you run out of grateful ideas during the week, we compiled a few prompts to help keep your practice moving. Once you’ve covered your inner circle of family, friends and good fortune, look beyond yourself as the week progresses. There are many things in the world that make it a better place for all of us, even if our day-to-day lives don’t appear to be impacted directly.