By Dayna Mason
Our thoughts produce our beliefs, and our beliefs determine our behavior. When we repeatedly complain or engage in gossip, we wire our brains for negativity. Negativity becomes a habit that not only dampens our mood but prevents us from seeing the good even when it’s right in front of us. Gratitude highlights the good that is already in our lives and promotes confidence in more good things to come.
Give up complaining and feel better
Neuroscientist Dr. Michael Merzenich discovered that our thoughts and experiences are inseparable from how our brain wires itself. Research suggests that making a habit of complaining can wire the brain so that negativity becomes ingrained. Because the brain is so malleable it’s also possible to rewire this orientation to positivity.
Complaining doesn’t attract what we want; it perpetuates what we don’t want, because it keeps us focused on the problem, not the solution. When we use complaining in the name of “venting” we seek to feel validated. We aren’t truly looking for solutions, just validation. When we gossip, we are complaining as a way to feel superior or better than the person we are talking about.
Circumstances don’t make us who we are, they reveal who we are. This is why two people can experience the same circumstances and react completely differently. Our outer world is merely a reflection of our inner world. Our thoughts create our lives and our words reflect what we are thinking.
In the words of Maya Angelou, “If you don’t like something change it. It you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”
What if we stopped complaining? Will Bowen, the author of the book, “A Complaint Free World,” suggests wearing a bracelet and switching it to the other wrist every time you complain until you’ve completed 21 consecutive days without complaining, thus forming a new habit.
Complaining in any form makes both the complainer and the listener feel worse. Regardless of our method of complaint, negative thoughts release chemicals in the body that cause stress. Conversely, positive thoughts release feel-good chemicals. Chronic complaining can adversely impact both our mood and our health, while being appreciative improves our heath and attitude toward life.
Many studies on gratitude have found that regularly experiencing a feeling of thankfulness or appreciation is consistently associated with greater happiness, a stronger immune system, better ability to deal with adversity, and stronger relationships. When we regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect on things we’re thankful for, we feel more alive, sleep better, and exhibit more kindness and compassion.
Gratitude journaling has become a popular way to practice feeling thankful on a daily basis. One common method is to write down three things you are grateful for each day. This works because over time it changes our perception by adjusting what we focus on. This practice is most effective if we keep our daily list fresh with specific newly identified things. For example, if day after day we list “I’m grateful for my job,” our brains will be less likely to look for new moments to appreciate throughout the day. Instead, one day we might list “I appreciate being able to work part-time” the next day we may list “I appreciate my coworker for bringing me coffee.” Both thoughts are things we might appreciate about our job, but they are specific and different each day.
Psychologist Robert Emmons suggests that focusing our gratitude on people rather than circumstances or material items enhances the benefits we experience. This is further enriched when we share our appreciation for someone with them. The more specific the better. Saying, “I appreciate you” is not as powerful as saying, “I appreciate how kind you are to others.”
Philosophical author James Allen wrote, “You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.”
We can choose what we think about and focus our attention on. When we give up complaining and shift our attention to what we have instead of what we lack, we wire our brains to find more things to appreciate. In that gratitude search we may find that we are happy and love our lives.
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