By Dawn Obrecht, M.D.
Sometimes that word, gratitude, just makes us gag. So what if there are starving people on the other side of the world and I just finished gorging myself on a meal that cost the equivalent of the annual wage of workers in most countries in Africa? How does that relate to me and my problems? Well... how does gratitude enter, or not enter into your life and why bother?
Okay, are you happier walking around...hmmm...maybe sitting around, counting your negatives or counting your positives? Whatever we focus on will get bigger. Feed either the good dog or the bad dog in your brain, whichever dog you want to grow...and eventually that one will eat the other dog. There is only so much room in your brain and if a large portion of it is occupied by gratitude and happiness, there is less to be invaded by negativity.
Brain chemistry changes with different activities and behavior. Every athlete knows that "runner's high" is a real thing. The endorphins created by exercise make us feel good. Same deal with doing nice things, even smiling, saying kind words, or holding a door open for someone. Brain chemistry changes for the better when we are behaving in a positive way. Recovering addicts have a saying: "We cannot always think our way into right acting, but we can act our way into right thinking." When we do something positive, it changes how we feel. Volunteering to do something to help others, working with the Salvation Army or Liftup or packing Christmas baskets at a church will make you feel good. Your brain chemistry will change and the cycle of feeling good and changing behavior begins. Make the decision to be happy and grateful (It is a decision), do something helpful, feel better, have more energy to do something else nice, feel better, and so on, the upward spiral. Soon we are happy and have an "attitude of gratitude". Do it every day. You deserve to be happy and grateful every day. Wake up and make the decision each morning, then act on it. I repeat, happiness and gratitude are a choice.
Back to the "brain chemistry" thing...we train our brain to function in a certain way, promoting the flow of neurochemicals and electrical connections in either positive or negative directions, reacting and responding in the way it always has...until we change.
Solution? Change your behavior, change your thinking, change who you hang out with, get help if you need it and cannot do the above, repeat.
Dr. Dawn Obrecht is the only MD addiction medicine specialist on the western slope of Colorado. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and her office is in Steamboat Springs. She teaches a communication course to medical students at the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver email@example.com.