This is my last blog post of the year, and I want to dedicate it to you.
To all of the readers, partners, and clients that have read and commented on some of the 140 pieces published. For those who engaged in insightful conversations, joined our meetups, or simply followed my thinking via the daily emails.
Your feedback and support drive me to continuously create better content. I'm not an experienced writer, so I thank you all for your understanding as I move between different topics and try to find my voice. My goal is to share some of my learnings with other consultants, but you can be sure I'm learning just as much from running this blog.
Inspired by this special date, I want to share something that is not directly related to marketing, selling, or delivering expert advice but has completely changed my (and several friends') consulting practice: a daily gratitude practice.
Our Brain Is Not Designed To Make Us Happy
In what turned out to be a rather disheartening social experiment, a Russian news site only reported good news to its readers for an entire day. The site brought positive news stories to its front page and found any silver linings in negative stories (“No disruption on the roads despite snow,” for example).
The result was a bunch of posts about sunshine and rainbows - that absolutely no one wanted to read. The news website lost two-thirds of its normal readership that day.
The media only give the people what they want. The real question is: why do we tend to focus on the negative aspects of a situation or experience? Why, in the case of the road, was it easier to complain about the presence of snow rather than appreciate the lack of accidents caused by it?
Because the human brain is wired for a single purpose – survival. The mind is not designed to make you happy, it’s designed to help you survive. It is always looking for what could hurt you, and it magnifies the bad. And we are wired to operate out of a place of scarcity and fear.
But here’s the thing – you have the choice of what to focus on. Remember, what’s wrong is always available, but so is what’s right.
It’s been proven over and over again that shifting your focus to the positive can dramatically improve your happiness and productivity.
This doesn’t mean you are supposed to repress your emotions or live in a state of denial. It simply means that you identify your problems, but give your power and energy to solutions. Because if the only time you are happy is when things are going your way, you’re not going to be happy very often.
One of the best ways to do it is by practicing gratitude. It's just like a drug, but free and completely legal. The side-effects include:
- Increased happiness. Robert A. Emmons has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being.
- Increased self-esteem. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that to be true among athletes, and a 2015 study by Chih-Che Lin also confirmed the link among undergraduate students.
- Better sleep. Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.
A couple of years ago I was in terrible shape and adopting a daily gratitude practice (through journaling) was the catalyst of a huge turnaround. The curiosity led me to research and read several studies on the topic. While I haven't followed new studies on gratitude for a while, I learned a thing or two about it.
Why Gratitude Works
What’s really behind these research results? Why might gratitude have these transformative effects on people’s lives? Here's a summary of what I found:
- Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present. Research on emotion shows that positive feelings wear off quickly. Our emotional systems like novelty and change. We quickly adapt to life circumstances, so the new car, partner, and lifestyle don’t feel so new and exciting anymore.
But gratitude makes us appreciate the value of something, and the act of doing that makes us less likely to take it for granted.
- Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, and regret. The reason for this is obvious once you think about it: You cannot feel envious and grateful at the same time. They’re incompatible feelings. By cultivating one, you reduce the other.
- Grateful people are more resistant to stress. There are several studies showing that, in the face of serious trauma, adversity, and suffering, people who practice more gratitude will have a quicker recovery. Some specialists believe gratitude gives people a perspective from which they can interpret negative life events, and this reduces post-traumatic stress and lasting anxiety.
- Grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth. As Robert Emmons puts it:
"I think that’s because when you’re grateful, you have the sense that someone else is looking out for you - someone else has provided for your well-being, or you notice a network of relationships, past and present, of people who are responsible for helping you get to where you are right now.
Once you start to recognize the contributions that other people have made to your life - once you realize that other people have seen the value in you - you can transform the way you see yourself."
If I can offer you a last advice this year, it would be to practice more gratitude. It will have a huge impact on your work, health, and relationships. And it's free.
Happy Holidays and warm wishes for the New Year!