The Neuroscience of Gratitude and Optimism
Given that this is being written at the end of 2020, a year that brought the world a pandemic, and one that most people would very much like to forget, it’s easy to imagine many reacting to the suggestion that we embrace gratitude and optimism as powerful concepts with skepticism. While this is understandable, I suggest that instead of dismissing this perspective as unrealistic, we look deeper into the neuroscience of these world views to see if they can indeed help us as we navigate the present and create the future.
Of course, for those who follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy, know that I like to understand how neuroscience influences our lives. Specifically, I look at three specific parts of the brain, their specific function, and how we can influence this process to have more influence in our lives and the lives of others. Gratitude and optimism are qualities that connect with the upper 80% of the brain (the neocortex, what I call the Top of the Mind) and it is from this part of the brain that we make our best decisions.
In other words, if we want to have the most influence over how we experience the present, and how we create our future, we will want to be coming from this clear, confident, creative part of who we are. The good news is that both gratitude and optimism have been researched extensively, and there is a wealth of data confirming their positive impact on one’s life. The bad news is that many people see these concepts as “soft” versus powerful, and tend to focus on the negative aspects of the present and worry about the future. Sadly, this engages the lower 20% of the brain which is great in a fight-or-flight situation, but not so good when effective decision-making is our goal.
Therefore, if you see the value in stepping up and being grateful for what we have, as well as taking responsibility for creating our future in a way that looks to what is possible versus worrying about the negative, I suggest we model what it looks like to embrace gratitude and optimism as core beliefs, and allow them to influence who we are and who we are becoming… certainly something we would recommend to those we love, don’t you think?
~ All the best, Dr. Bill