“Its not the reality in which we live that shapes us. It’s the lens that views the world that shapes our reality. If we can change the lens, we can change our happiness” – Shawn Achor
I like to think of myself as a grateful person. I had an amazing childhood, a supportive family, went to university and I am fortunate enough to be doing what I love for a living. As of 2015 I had established myself as a player, received a lucrative wage and enjoyed many experiences; every thing in my life had grown exponentially except my happiness. As I got older and my expectations grew I became focused on the outcomes. This was amplified by the unknown duration of my sports career. These thoughts weighed heavily upon me. I felt pressured to make as much money as I could while I could. I believed that if I worked harder I would be more successful and if I was more successful I would be happier. Welcome to the rat race. My own fabrication of happiness led to me ignoring all the things in my life that should be appreciated. There are a number of reasons for this but I would like to use this opportunity to talk about gratitude. Somewhere along the way I stopped being grateful.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is the quality of being thankful, the ability to appreciate the good things that happen to us. Essentially gratitude is what separates us from every other species on the planet. Things like reason, logic memory and gratitude are a few of the complex behaviours created and processed by our Prefrontal Cortex (PFC). Humans as a species are unique as we are the only earthly inhabitants with a PFC. Developed over 2 million years, the PFC has been an integral part of our survival providing us with instincts and simulations of situations. These simulations involve the recognition of negatives in our environment. It was an essential survival mechanism when sabre tooth tigers were roaming the earth. Fast-forward to the present day and you are still seven times more likely to recognise a negative outcome over a positive one. In a world where the meat I am hunting is located in aisle 3, sealed in a plastic bag and void of claws, this seems highly unnecessary. Still not convinced? Take a look at the news and you will find the ratios of stories are negatively skewed. Whilst there is no denying the legitimacy of these stories, it is clear that the negative to positive ratio mirrors the perception of our own reality. The good news is we can reverse our brains negative disposition. How? Practising gratitude.
Even better news, it only takes 21 days. Well, not really, but 21 days is a great starting point. Somewhere a long time ago a fellow called Dr. Maxwell Maltz observed that it takes around 21 days to break or form a habit. The attraction of this number is clear to see. Who doesn’t like the sound of changing their life in 3 weeks! In reality the time it takes is dependent on the person and circumstance. You are not going to wake up on day 21 and suddenly be happy. The purpose of practicing gratitude for a time period (like 21 days) is to commit to the process of change. Practicing gratitude takes a little time and commitment. What does it look like? For me I practice gratitude daily in a diary. At the end of every day I write down three or more things I am grateful for. The purpose of this exercise is to encourage your brain to look for positives in your situation. The more you search for things to be thankful for the less you notice potential negatives. After a period of time your brain will become positively skewed.
Another form of gratitude is meditation. It is an effective way to practice gratitude. We are an ambitious species always striving for that next promotion, new car, adrenaline rush, or bout of happiness. Take a minute or two to centre yourself and reflect on all the people and things in your life you are grateful for. Any space is perfect. Your home, the park or the bus stop: it doesn’t matter.
Have these two techniques helped me become a more positive and grateful person? Yes. Will it help you? I would like to think so. If the price of happiness is 5-10 minutes of daily gratitude well take my money because that’s the best bargain you will ever get!
Stop searching for tomorrow’s happiness.
It is all around us.
We just need to learn how to find it.