Gratitude and Happiness – Insights from the Wilderness #82


Gratitude and HappinessGratitude has the power to rewire your brain for happiness. When we focus our attention on gratitude instead of the bad things in our world, we rewire our brain for more gratitude and happiness.

There is an old saying that says “when we look out at the world we see what we expect to see; we see what we believe; and we essentially dismiss the rest as unimportant.”

We are now beginning to understand how true that old saying really is. We are discovering the brain is actually hard wired for survival; the instinct to see threat and danger, not gratitude and happiness.

That means our ego is hard-wired to see things that are bad; things that are threatening in any way to our ego’s survival. Essentially that would include anything that would make us anxious or worried.

Our attraction to bad news in the media is wired into our DNA. The bigger the crisis; the bigger the threat; the more terrible the event; the more we find ourselves fascinated with the story. It’s as if we are addicted to the adrenalin rush that comes with the negative emotions embedded in the story.

And even more amazing, news that feels like a threat to our “self” identity, or any news that challenges our beliefs or worldview, is often emotionally just as dangerous to our ego as threats to our actual physical well-being.

In other words, threats stick to our brain like Velcro. Things that would make us happy or grateful are treated as if they are coated with Teflon. They are not only invisible to our ego; they tend to slide out of our brain almost immediately.

Stated simply, our ego is not interested in gratitude.

This is not a bad thing; it is simply the way our reptilian brain is wired for survival. But if we want to be happy, we need to understand that this process is going on unconsciously in our mind. If we want to experience gratitude and happiness, or begin a spiritual practice of gratitude, we need to understand that our unconscious ego is not going to be very helpful.

To bring light into the shadows of our unconscious mind; to shine light on our dark nature that is addicted to fear and the bad things in the world, we are going to need the intentional and conscious self-awareness of our more evolved and enlightened observing ego. When we intentionally focus our attention on gratitude, science is showing us that we are literally in the process of re-wiring our brain to more easily take in gratitude..

Because of the way our brain is hard-wired, we pay attention and take in the bad almost immediately, but we need an estimated 20 to 30 times as long to take in and digest the good; and that’s assuming we even see the good.

Evolutionary spirituality however, gives us insight into how we might work with our dark ego nature. For the first time in human history we now know that it has taken the Divine Impulse to “Become” 13.7 billion years of evolution to create the incredible and awesome universe we are now able to see; thanks to astronomers using tools such as the Hubble telescope.

We now know that there are hundreds of billions of galaxies out there, and the majority of them have upwards of a trillion stars in each one of them. The diameter of these galaxies is measured in hundreds of thousands of light years across.

Gratitude and HappinessWhen I look at Hubble pictures and know that the Universe began as pure hydrogen and energy 13.7 billion years ago; when I know that all matter in the Universe, including the planet that birthed me is star dust; and that star dust evolved into life and consciousness, it’s impossible not to feel an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude.

In the words of Alfred North Whitehead “ it is as true to say that the world is as immanent in the Creator, as the Creator is immanent in the world.”

I find that the stars in a night sky are a powerful way for me to intentionally take in gratitude.

In those moments, I find it impossible to believe that our human minds on this infinitesimally small speck of dirt we call earth could ever claim to know the “truth” about ultimate reality; or not feel awe and gratitude for the privilege of just being alive and conscious of this incredible and amazing Universe.

When I look up at the stars on a clear night, I find myself for a few moments fully present in mental stillness; fully open and surrendering to the silence as I embrace this awesome reality with awe and gratitude. I find it impossible to hang onto my ego’s narcissistic illusions of self-importance.

I have learned that when I’m focused on gratitude I am much more able to experience the unlimited potential of the Divine Impulse to “Become” immanent within myself; to be open to the unbelievable possibilities present in all people and things——rather than focusing on the limitations my ego would prefer me to see.

So I am learning not to rush those moments; that I have to give myself time to take them in and “digest” them with full attention and presence; to breathe them in.

When I am intentionally focused on gratitude I know that nothing has to change for me to be in touch with this deeper awareness. I simply have to be inside myself, fully present to who I am in that moment.

In those moments of deep gratitude I know that the silent awareness I am experiencing is always present. I know that all I have to do is move beyond my conditioned, thinking mind to be in that place of presence and conscious awareness; that place of surrender to pure awareness.

But when the moment passes, I am aware of how easily the ego of my hard-wired brain returns to fear; to the dark and the imagined threats lurking in the shadows. How easily I slide back into the illusions of self-importance created by my ego. I get to experience first hand how easily my thoughts cover over my sense of  “being” and call me back to thinking and “doing”.

As I said, I am slowly learning to stop in those moments and breathe in the gratitude I feel for the gift of simply being alive; to breathe in the moment and digest the experience before I let my thoughts take control of my consciousness again.

The spiritual practice of intentional gratitude allows me to move beyond the agitation of my incessant thinking and feeling so I can see more deeply into amazing reality of the world around me; to open my heart and embrace the awe and joy of simply being alive.

As these moments of intentional gratitude slowly rewire my brain for happiness, it is changing what I see in my world.

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2 Responses to Gratitude and Happiness – Insights from the Wilderness #82

  1. Linda February 1, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    Thanks Dick,

    I do agree with the above sentiments. Gratitude is a wonderful thing as it enables us to return to the Now. When I find myself caught up in my story and the incessant chatter that sometimes goes on in the mind, I find it useful to say “Drop it” to myself. This does take practice. Where would we be without our stories? Right back in the moment. The primitive ego likes to live in the past or future and not in the Now. However thank goodness for our imperfect lives, and sometimes our brokenness, an opportunity to return us back to the moment. In truly letting go do we, return more fully to our lives.

    Blessings from New Zealand

    • DickRauscher February 6, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

      Great question…..”where would we be without our stories”. Gratitude is about seeing what is in the world. Not thinking or doing the world.
      Our brokenness is what wakes us up….at least it does when the pain is bad enough to get our attention.
      Thanks for the feedback.

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