Gratitude Graffiti: Part 3


In the third part of the series,  one of the project leaders talks about "Gratitude, Happiness and Our Brain."  She notes that a daily practice of Gratitude, which cultivates positive states of mind, has the ability to rewire our brains for the better.

By Leanne Rousell

In every second of our day, there are literally millions of pieces of information available to us.  However, our brains can only process 40 bits of information per second.  Which 40 bits do you choose to focus on?  Within this very choice lies the potential to change the way we see our life and our world, and, hence, the way we feel about it.

If we reflect on our day, we often focus on the negative.  This is because our brains store negative experiences in long-term memory.  Positive experiences, unless they are profound or very intense, are stored in short-term memory.  This is what scientists call the “negativity bias” of the brain.  There is an evolutionary reason for this.  Many years ago, when our thoughts revolved primarily around survival, the implications of remembering and learning from a negative experience could mean the difference between life or death.  Today, we rarely encounter negative experiences that have the same risk to our well-being.

For a positive experience to be transferred from short-term memory to long-term memory, it must stay in our short-term memory for more than twelve seconds.  Few of us take the time to reflect on our positive experiences long enough for them to be transferred to long-term memory. 

However, this is exactly what a daily practice of Gratitude does.  By reflecting on “what is good”, our brain transfers these experiences from short-term memory to long-term memory.  It rewires our brain, cultivating a more positive view of our life and our world, thereby increasing our sense of well-being and contentment.

This can easily be accomplished by sending an e-mail of appreciation to someone, writing in a Gratitude Journal, or simply expressing what we are grateful for at mealtime.

We do have the power to control where we focus our attention.  I am not suggesting that we ignore our problems, but the negativity bias of our brains causes us to focus on them disproportionately.  In contrast, a daily practice of Gratitude, which stores positive experiences in long-term memory, effectively rewires our brain, and, consequently, contributes to our long-term happiness.

Leanne Rousell is a speaker and educator with The Gratitude Graffiti Project.  She has spoken to thousands of students about the benefits of a daily practice of Gratitude.  A mother of two, she is passionate about educating young people on the subjects of gratitude, happiness, resiliency, achievement, and healthy relationships.


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