Monday, May 2, 2011

Mind Games

First: science is awesome. I love articles about brain science and the discoveries scientists are making about our internal chemistry behind falling in love, worrying, depression, happiness, etc, etc.

Second: in your brain, gratitude and happiness are basically indistinguishable. Think about that! Being grateful for something is the same as being happy about something. That whole idea of listing 1 or 3 or 5 things a day you are grateful for? It's just a way of being happy for a minute or two. Awesome!

This has been floating around in my mind the past few months, and I have been doing it backwards, so to speak... that is, I find myself giving thanks for something, and then I think, "Ah-ha! This is also happiness. OK. Brain: I am happy in this moment."

And let's be clear: I am not usually being thankful for grand, epic things. It is far more likely that I sit at night and admire my cozy, clean house and think how lovely the rain is when you have a place to get OUT of it. Gratitude for a home = happy on a quiet evening. Or I get in my car after work and become aware how much easier my life is because I can drive whenever I want to, and sure, I can choose to walk, or take a bus, but none are the lone option. Having choice and flexibility makes me grateful = happy commutes home. Or I sit down to mushrooms fried in butter and some steamed curly kale and think, I am so thankful to have this healthy food available to buy - and grateful I was taught how to cook it! - which then = a happy heart over a meal.

It's not as easy for me to think of something I am grateful for and then "be happy". It's easier to let the thanks flow in, and then let my intellect step in and be bossy, and remind my whole self that this gratitude is real happiness. Intellect gets to be superior, but everybody wins.

So after enjoying this for a few months, I have a new mind game I'd like to share. I'm calling it reverse worrying.

I've been trying this for a couple weeks... start by picking a worry, any worry. My husband might leave me, I might get fired, there could be a terrible earthquake, we could lose our house, my car might explode, what if I developed a chronic or terminal illness, what if I became allergic to gluten or garlic or scallops, someone in my family could pass away unexpectedly, the debt ceiling could be failed to be raised and we could stop being an industrialized nation on July 2nd... you name it, and I am sure to worry about it.

So instead of focusing on the worry, I turn it around on itself and find the thing that I'm afraid of losing - health, love, home, family, stability, choice, economic growth - and put energy into being grateful for what I have now, and think lightly that yes, this could be the most health/money/stability/freedom I will ever have, so just enjoy it! Or remind my brain: better not to worry about losing it, because that wastes time.

If you're curious, this reverse worrying developed largely from working with refugees at my job. These are folks who often had middle- or upper-class lives in their home countries before [fillintheblank] happened. And they ended up fleeing, living in displacement, and eventually relocated by well-meaning governments to little Portland, Oregon. When I meet them, they are dealing with a labryinthine immigration system, not to mention learning English and a new culture. They may be trying to visit a relative in another country, but that takes ten steps when you still don't have citizenship and a US Passport. But are they happy to be alive? Are they trying to adjust and live, and thrive? You bet. So I can shelve my worries, at least for today. And if I become a refugee, I'll be OK, and if I don't, the time will have been better spent finding gratitude instead of nursing worries.


  1. To be clear: Emily has no rational reason to worry about me leaving. This may simply be a manifestation of her unrelentingly adorable craziness...

  2. I have no reason to worry about my husband leaving either, but I fear it too.

    That said, I'm glad to know that being grateful=happiness. The kids and I take turns talking about our "favorite parts of the day" each night. It's a tradition they are very devoted to. And even though I am the one who instituted it, sometimes I get tired of it. Sometimes you have days when everything really kind of sucked, and then what do you say to the three little people wanting you to name something as your "favorite?" But I can usually at least say that dinnertime was my favorite, because we were all together, and we had food to eat. It's a good little reminder to be thankful for family and nourishment, even if I am in a bad mood. And now, having read this, I will be able to tell myself that by naming these things, I'm actually *making* myself happier, too :)

  3. I really enjoyed this.
    Gratitude saves me often, sometimes, many times a day.
    One of the best tools I have to live in the present, which is SO challenging.
    Today, I am grateful for chocolate, hope, books, my children and President Obama --Ha!

  4. Brains are awesome (17 min):
    Brains are awesome musical version (4 min):

  5. Hi
    I stumbled on to this blog trying to search "mind games" for success and frankly I found this piece awesome. Not actually a quick fix but rather a world of good wisdom. Thanks a lot..