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The Power of Gratitude – Happy Thanksgiving!

November 26, 2020

For those that are celebrating Thanksgiving, Happy Thanksgiving! It seems appropriate to spend some time about the Power of Gratitude.

I’m not going to lecture you on the need to be grateful. I’ve always found that annoying. However, when I finally caved and started writing down 3 things that I’m grateful for every day, I noticed a significant difference in my attitude. But I’ll save the details of that story for another day.

Instead, I wanted to talk about the relationship of gratitude to Psychiatry and Religion in our modern day. It’s unlikely you’ve heard about this connection before.

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, before modern human civilization, we had it rough. We had to hunt for our food and it wasn’t always guaranteed. We didn’t have sharp teeth or claws or big strong muscles. It seems we just had a big brain.

This big brain learned a lot of things on an evolutionary level. A lot of it had to deal with survival. Our brain will trick itself to survive. If there’s a rustling in the bush, “IT COULD BE A LION!!” so we jump away, even if we’re in the middle of a local park. A lot of our irrationality can be found to have a source in our evolutionary makeup.

Extreme versions of anxiety and depression can be considered to be “irrational”. We get very anxious about threats to our sense of self, or our livelihood. Let’s say you’re about to get fired from your job. Your irrational survival mind is going to go off like CRAZY, make you anxious, make you worried. Maybe you have trouble sleeping because you don’t know if you can get one in this economic environment. All of it is so important. If it persists, you start to become depressed.

However, will not sleeping help you? Not exactly. So why do you do it? It’s because on an abstract level, losing your job is like “dying”. It’s like possibly getting eaten by a lion. Your brain is activating its evolutionary programming to protect itself from lions, even though you just lost your job and probably won’t have any immediate life-threatening issues for the night.

When we remind ourselves of what we are grateful for, we allow our brain to recognize that we’re running from lions like our ancestors. We allow our brain to soften the survivalist tendencies that worked back then but are harmful now. The key is that when you act on what is true to reality rather than catastrophic fears wired in your biology, you make better decisions, and your life has better consequences.

So what are you grateful for? Happy Thanksgiving!

Dr. Eric

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