Gratitude

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.

  1. First try this: note how you feel when you are slumped over, looking down, not making eye contact with your friends and family. Then try this: look up, at the sky (do not try while driving, cycling, skiing, boarding, etc.). Look at the person you are talking with, look at the landscape. If you are in Steamboat, look at the mountain. Do not slump or look down. It is more difficult to "be down" if you are "looking up". Really, your physical presence affects your emotional and spiritual presence.
  2. Then take action. Be kind and helpful to another human being (see suggestions above, but do something). Go to a school and ask if there are any children whose families are desperate and need food and presents for Christmas. How about visiting a nursing home and reading to a person who has lost his eyesight? The Universal Law of Service says: We always get more than we give.
  3. Think gratitude...for something in your life. Complaining instead of being grateful for your blessings (yes, you do have some), becomes a downward spiral...around the drain pipe and on to self-hatred and separation from good, and separation from God. Many of us are so into our problems that we simply miss the cool stuff...we are feeding the bad dog in our brain. A popular refrain is, "Poor me, poor me, pour me another drink."
  4. An alternative could be to pause, pretend to change your thinking, and try something different, feeding the good dog. I can"t change my height, age, or skin color, but I can change my attitude. I can change my insides and be a good human being. How does one do this? Change. Go back to number one. Pretending to be in gratitude is a way to turn the downward spiral upward, out of the sewer.
  5. Try this: make a gratitude list! Can"t think of anything you are grateful for? Come on, are you hungry, cold, sick, diagnosed with cancer, or family member has terminal illness? Did a hurricane or tsunami just destroy your house. The reason to do this is for you. If all else fails, we can be grateful for living in the Colorado mountains!
  6. Ditch the negative people in your life, at least temporarily, until you are strong enough to be a positive influence on them and not allow them to steal your joy. Hang out with happy, healthy people who represent the kind of person you want to be. Let them demonstrate what an emotionally and spiritually healthy person looks like. If you want what they have, do what they do.
  7. Surrender the drugs and alcohol and live life clean, just for a while. See who you really are, out from under the cloud of being high. Get help if you need it.

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 info@docdawn.com.


 

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