Brain Bulletin #103 - A Good Question Your Brain Should Ask Every Day

in Brain Bulletin

"What one thing am I grateful for today?"

This question can change your brain, and your life. Science has a lot to say about this. It turns out that gratitude is good for your brain.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” I like this a lot.

Do you remember the old story of the house with the golden windows? It tells of a little boy who would look across the sprawling meadows outside his house every morning and see in the distance a house with golden windows. He would stare and revel in the radiant beams streaming his way from far away. He asked his father one day if they could visit the house with the golden windows. The father obliged, and they started to walk. They walked and walked until they approached the house. The young lad stood perplexed. He saw no windows of gold. But a little girl inside saw them staring at her home and came out to ask if they were looking for something. "Yes." replied the boy, "I wanted to see the house with the golden windows that I see every morning." "Oh, you've come to the wrong place." she said quickly. "If you wait here a little until sunset, I will show you the house with the golden windows that I see every evening." She then pointed to the house in the distance - the home of the little boy.

This story contains a powerful truth: Developing an attitude of gratitude starts with simple awareness. Sometimes the things that are the hardest to see are the things right in front us.

Gratitude, like most things, is a habit. First we form habits, and then they form us. What would happen if you got a small notebook, and once a day wrote down one or two things that you are grateful for? What if you kept it simple:

  - "I'm grateful to the stranger in the white truck who let me merge into traffic today."

  - "I'm grateful for the big smile that the person at the check out gave me today."

  - "Yes my back hurts today, but I'm so grateful that it isn't broken."

  - "I am grateful for the food on my plate this morning."

Every now and then you could go back and read a few pages from previous months. Remember, your brain gets good at what it does. Neurons that fire together, wire together. You are literally wiring your brain for gratitude. And your brain will start to see things everywhere to be grateful for. Eventually, gratitude will be as effortless for you as breathing. You will have literally sculpted your brain to have a bias for gratitude. Neuroplasticity is amazing.

Here's what science says happens when you start and maintain a gratitude log:

1. Your long term well-being increases 10%. That's the same impact as doubling your income! (Positive Psychology Progress)

2. Sixteen percent fewer physical symptoms. (Emmons, University of Cal.)

3. Nineteen percent more time exercising. (ibid.)

4. Ten percent less physical pain. (ibid.)

5. Eight percent more sleep. (ibid.) ...who couldn't use more of that?

6. Twenty-five percent increased sleep quality. (ibid.)

7. Thirty percent less depressive symptoms. (PPP)

8. Increased vitality and energy. (numerous studies)

9. Significant decrease in systolic blood pressure. (R.W. Shipon, Temple University, 2007)

10. Gratitude lets you live longer. (Findings from the Nun Study)

And one more, gratitude makes you look good to others.

So why not get a notebook and get started? Watch your brain change. And then watch the people around you change.

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”- A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

As for me, I'm grateful that you took the time to read this.Thank you.

Here's something else to read: Brain Bulletin #91 - Words Can Change Your Brain 
And this: Brain Bulletin #76 - The Charles Schulz Philosophy 

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My favourite book this month was "Outsmarting Alzheimer's - What You Can Do  to Reduce the Risk"  by Kenneth S. Kosik, MD. Lots of practical stuff here. You would get a lot out of it.

2016 was a busy year. 108 presentations in Germany, Ireland, India, Switzerland, Texas, California, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, and of course lots of presentations in British Columbia where I live. I continue to enjoy reading, cycling, and grandkids!

2017 will have a busy start with 24 presentations in Jan. and Feb. 

I am also honoured to be speaking at EdYOUfest near Paris this summer. I better brush up on my french!

Terry Small, "the Brain Guy", Independent Scholar & Learning Skills Specialist.

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