A Grateful Trick.


When our minds feel caught in a negative spiral, and stress seems ready to overwhelm us, there's a spiritual practice, with scientific backing, that can help us head in the other direction.


Wait— keep reading. I know when you see that word it may seem childish, even condescending. But "Just be thankful and stop complaining" isn't at all what I'm offering. 

Our brains are designed to look for things to worry about. After all, it's technically "safer" for a mammal to stay vigilant than to not care enough. But our brains, when not disciplined in the way of peace, tend to overdo this vigilance. Our worries pile, our anxieties multiply, and pretty soon we are angry and tense and ready to assume the worst about everything, you know, just in case. Gratitude, which Melody Beatti defines as that which, "...turns what we have into enough" is a way that we can thwart the burdened worrier in our head by saying, "Hang on a second, what's already going well? I'm going to be thankful for that." 

This act of finding a thing that isn't to be resisted, isn't trying to do anything to you and is fine just the way it is, reawakens the higher thinking regions in our brains, rerouting energy away from the fear center. The Apostle Paul, as he began trading his rigid anxiety for peace, said, "Give thanks in any circumstance you find yourself in." That's really something coming from a guy who spent much of his adult life in jail, disowned by his family and wondering if he'd survive the week. I take it to heart. 

But some days I feel like I can't. Maybe you can relate, and there are moments you can't think of anything to be thankful about. Well, modern science shows that merely trying to find something to express gratitude about does the trick. The act of looking counts, and turns the better brain back on, pulling the nose of the plane back up considerably. And practicing gratitude beforehand, helps to avoid the spiral altogether. 

Whatever you are experiencing today—know that it matters and it does you no good to pretend it doesn't. Especially if it has you in a funk. But consider taking Paul's and Melody's advice and, best you can, give thanks for what already is. For something outside, for something you know, for someone in your life, perhaps even just for the literacy you and I are enjoying right now. Try and find it, and try to mean it. And then step back into your day a little more ready to live in it.

Peace (and thanks),