At our Friday group, we talk about our week. Sometimes a common theme appears.
This time, a number of the guys mentioned how blessed or grateful they felt because of someone or some event in their lives.
When my turn came, I reported that gratitude was something I had been grappling with.
For a while, I have been trying to make a nightly review of my day, thanking God for all the serendipitous and undeserved good that I had encountered.
Over time, I’ve been specifically grateful for everything from laughter to loved ones, from rainbows to chemo.
I often went to sleep peaceful and contented, but I don’t know how much that helped the next morning. While the examen was good, I felt that I was missing a lot, just hitting the high notes.
What I needed was not a daily list of gratitude, but a grateful mindfulness practiced throughout the day.
I wanted an awareness that would not only catch bitty blessings that I tended to overlook at night, but also help me react more creatively and graciously when they arose.
It’s funny how things come to our attention. Simply being aware of all this, I’ve come across some otherwise unrelated facts that reinforce my desire to do it.
There’s the amygdala, that portion of the brain associated with emotions, survival instincts, and memory. They say that two-thirds of the amygdala’s neurons are on the alert for any bad news that could possibly harm us.
While it acts as protection, it can crimp our attitude.
Another thing is our memory bias. Because of the way the amygdala connects threats and emotions, negative experiences tend to imprint immediately and tend to become more memorable than many positive ones.
Conversely, positive experiences take longer to make their mark. We need to hold them in awareness for at least 12 seconds for them to register in memory.
So here is the thing I’m learning about a mindfulness of gratitude.
Practicing it, I am more aware of the many good, beautiful and gratuitous gifts that are showered upon me every day. There is no way that can have anything but a beneficial effect on my mood.
But there’s more. Just realizing those moments of gift, and holding them in gratitude, makes them memorable and lasting.
Those good memories can outweigh the bad and help us to be happier people.
And if that’s the way it works, then God must want our happiness, too.