Gratitude Is About Attention


This week is all about gratitude. Which I admit, I was resistant to devote five episodes to. Not because I think gratitude isn’t important—I absolutely do. But because it’s one of those things that’s been talked about a million times in a lot of the same ways.

ALSO, 2020 has been challenging, to say the least. I don’t want to send any kind of message that glosses over the toughness of these times. However, gratitude is a powerful way to make tough times less hard that’s also good for you. So let’s try and get it into a good grateful groove this week.

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First let’s talk about what gratitude is:

It’s both an emotion or state of being, and an action you can take. Today, I want to talk about gratitude, the emotion. Which is the feeling of being thankful or appreciative for something. The cool thing about gratitude the emotion is that in order to be thankful for something, you have to do some really cool stuff. You’ve got to slow down enough to observe, you’ve got to be open enough to take in what’s happening.

Otherwise, your appreciation is never going to kick in because you’ll be too busy thinking about other things. So that means feeling grateful requires to be in the present moment and not off somewhere in your head. It also requires you to be observant and receptive, instead of judgmental or critical. And these are all beautiful things.

On a bigger picture level, gratitude gets you to stop noticing what’s going wrong.

Which is a very natural thing to do. In fact, we humans focus on what’s wrong so frequently that it has a fancy psychological term—the negativity bias. The fact that our human brain is wired to scan and remember problems played a crucial role in our evolution as a species. It helped us survive when we lived on the savanna, because it made us remember which berries killed our uncle. Or which spots the predators liked to hide in.

I hate to say it, but we can be grateful for the negativity bias, because it serves an important purpose. It’s just that when left unchecked, the negativity bias can be like an engraved invitation for negativity.

Direct Your Attention Towards The Small Victories

So perhaps if thinking about gratitude as something just horribly virtuous is not appealing, you can think of it as an exercise in attention. It directs your attention toward what’s going right. And what you focus on grows. (Or, you could say, what you appreciate appreciates).

That means, when you’re going through something where it seems there are negative things happening all over the danged place (hello, 2020!). Spending some energy on cultivating gratitude helps the pieces of your life or life in general grow.

I’m not even talking about finding pieces of the hard times to be grateful for; I mean you can be thankful for even the tiniest things. As I write this, today I have felt incredibly grateful for the hoodie jumpsuit from Old Navy that’s made it so incredibly easy to get dressed in the morning and so perfect for working from home. The virtual after school acting program that has my daughter laughing and giggling and, I think, pretending to be a famous German chef?, in the next room; and that I found an awesome cashmere sweater at the secondhand store around the corner. OK, none of these are about the pandemic but still, they help me not sit here and obsess about the rising number of cases, and stay out of the fear that comes from obsessing about the rising number of cases.

Daily Tiny Assignment

Make a list, mental or verbal, of three things you appreciate. I like to do it while I’m lying in bed before I fall asleep. It just gets my thoughts into a good place and away from thinking about all the things I wish I had gotten done, or that were upsetting that perhaps I didn’t have time to digest earlier in the day. It’s helpful to tie your thinking about what you’re grateful for to something you do every day—like lie in bed.

Or it could be waking up, sitting down to eat, or the moments before you pick up your phone or open your computer in the morning. The more habitual you can be about thinking of what you’re grateful for, the more you’ll train yourself to steer your attention away from the negative to notice the things that give you a little trill of gratefulness.

Be sure to come back tomorrow when I’m talking about how gratitude can help you get your butt into gear on any changes you want to make in your life.


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