Earlier this week I attended a unique gathering of some of the leading scientists, artists, and entrepreneurs. Among others, I was really moved by the talk given by Steven Pinker, a cognitive psychologist and author of many books, including Enlightenment Now, which came out earlier in 2018.
In his talk, Pinker shared a great deal of data demonstrating just how much progress we’ve made as a human race.
According to this data, in the past 300 years, everything from poverty, childhood mortality, and even the chance that you’ll get struck by lightning has declined significantly all over the world and things like life expectancy have increased.
“So why don’t we feel good about all this progress?” he asked.
“Why do so many of us feel like we’re living in doom and gloom and everything is getting worse?”
The answer lies in how our brain works.
As Steven Pinker explained, if something is easy to remember, our brain thinks it’s more likely to happen in the future.
And we’re fantastic at remembering the bad things – not just in our lives, but bad news and events we’ve heard about or seen on TV.
Part of this is due to our negativity bias, our brain’s tendency to be more sensitive to negative stimuli than positive ones.
But, as Pinker shared, our media’s focus on what’s going wrong is also a huge culprit.
The media knows about our negativity bias and feeds it, helping our brains to capture and remember bad news.
At the same time, a lot of what is really wonderful in our lives is too boring to cover on TV. In a way, it’s not news.
For example, you don’t see news reports about a bridge functioning well, but the news of a bridge collapse is everywhere when it (unfortunately) happens.
So, what do we do about this?
The answer is gratitude.
Listening to Steven Pinker, I was reminded again about why it’s so essential to practice the skill of gratitude and zoom in all the small and big things we appreciate about our lives.
When we do this, we take our brain off the autopilot of focusing on the bad stuff and remind it that there are so many things going right in our lives. This helps us to not take our many blessings for granted and allows us to find moments of joy in our everyday activities.
But it also gives us hope and resilience to get through the tough stuff when it does happen – because it always does. Life often throws us into small and big storms.
By practicing gratitude, we remind our negativity-focused brain that our life is bigger and richer than the current challenge we may be going through. And that’s incredibly powerful.
So I hope you’ll make your gratitude practice a priority.
It’s so simple to do: You can start by writing down 3 things you’re grateful for right now (the more specific, the better.)
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