Every once in a while my Pollyanna disposition takes a dive and I just cannot find my smile. When that happened a few weeks ago, I thought of all those who had come to me wishing for a magic word to uplift their spirits. My usual suggestion is to count one’s blessings to outweigh sadness. Despite my own best efforts — as with writer’s block — I was beginning to face a blank gratitude page. Nonetheless, I continued to send out “thank you” notes and try to express appreciation. Suddenly the universe rewarded my efforts.
For me, help came in an email from Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D., author of “Meet Your Happy Chemicals.” She was letting me know of the new YouTube videos she had created to explain the concept of creating new neural pathways in the brain. Doing so gives us a boost and is a way to enhance love and family relationships.
What I learned is that you cannot just give gratitude a try — you must work at it consistently for at least 45 days. Breuning pointed out: “Life is frustrating because happy chemical spurts are short. You have to do more to get more. Also electricity flows into the old neural super highways — and you have to focus intensely to steer it into new neural trails. But here is the good news. Since our brain has a huge stock of extra neurons, you can build new neural pathways with them. It is not easy. But you have the power to repeat a new behavior until a neural pathway is created and electricity can flow in a new direction.”
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She added: “You can wire yourself to see the good in the world. Oftentimes, this gets ignored because it has no place to flow until you build a new pathway. And you can do this by focusing on the good three minutes a day or three times a day at one minute intervals.”
But here is the catch. You must focus on gratitude for 45 days even if it seems fake or foolish. She says: “If you miss a day, start over from Day One. You must go 45 days straight because that is what it takes to get a new trail established.”
What happens in this exercise is that in creating and expanding the pathway for good, the neurons in the brain that you might have depended upon for negativity may lose some of their drawing power. These old neurons remain there — just as temptation is always with us. However, once you’ve created that new neural pathway for gratitude, because it is available, you will be more likely to travel along the goodness road.
Rita Watson, MPH, is a Journal relationship columnist who writes “With Love and Gratitude” for PsychologyToday.com