Sitting in one of my favorite places in the world, it seems very natural to be grateful. Generally I have a very positive, outgoing, can-do personality, and even though I was chosen ‘Class Optimist’ in high school (ha- really!), when I look back on my tougher years, it’s remarkable how I came to ruminate on the negative. This negativity bias is evolutionary: thousands of years ago we needed it for survival (keeping an eye out for tigers). Even with positive things happening, psychologists who study the negativity bias have established that each day up to 80% of our thoughts are negative. That’s four out of every five thoughts! And it comes with real costs - studies show negativity is positively correlated with anxiety and depression. And for me, I think the negativity became a hard wired habit.
If I were to tell you that there is an antidote - and it’s not only free but has no side effects - wouldn’t you be inclined to make sure your child developed that habit? Gratitude. The more we practice grateful thoughts, the more our neurons activate around that positive experience and positivity can become the habit, overriding the balance of negative thoughts. It’s not particularly hard, but it does require making a choice to focus on the positive.
Listening to Tamara Levitt on the Calm app, I heard a great idea that could be turned into a game with children. Every now and then or, better, as a follow up to being upset about something, call for a Gratitude Countdown with your child. Pretend they are being timed for speed in a game show and have them shout out 10 things for which they are grateful, starting at 10. Dessert or special time with Dad or a pet - click here for a list of ideas to get you started. By the end, they’ll be laughing and setting themselves up for a lifelong habit of appreciating the good things in life. And the bonus? According to Glenn Fox at the USC Performance Science Institute, “It’s very similar to working out, in that the more you practice, the better you get…[and] the easier it is to feel grateful when you need it.”