Thankful: Upgrade your brain (it’s only 10,000 years behind!)

There’s no denying it, gratitude is one powerful emotion.

The benefits of gratitude include better physical health, greater happiness, better sleep, more self-esteem, stronger relationships, less anxiety, reduced symptoms of anxiety, greater resilience, sharper thinking, feeling less stress… the list goes on.

That said, gratitude doesn’t come easy for most of us. We don’t automatically wake up every morning feeling like a million bucks and brimming with eternal gratitude.

The bottom line is that we’re built for survival. Not happiness.

And gratitude takes considerable effort.

Here’s a quick history lesson: in order to pass on their genes, our ancestors had to be good at two things.

One: avoid dangerous things – including (but not limited to) starvation, extreme weather, poisonous foods, being mauled by a lion, and raids by other clans.

Two: be skilled at getting the good stuff – including (but not limited to) food, shelter, a mate, tribe and tools.

And these things were equally important, though there’s a crucial difference between them. Fail to get food today and you still live to try again tomorrow.

Fail to avoid a pride of lions today and, well, no do-overs for you.

For millions of years, AVOIDING the bad carried so much more urgency and importance than getting the good.

Survival depended on recognising dangers quickly, reacting to them intensely, remembering them and learning from them – essentially becoming hypersensitive to danger.

And as a result, the human brain developed a built-in negativity bias.

Today, life is considerably safer than it was millions of years ago. Yet our brain hasn’t updated the basic software as quickly as we’ve changed.


Your brain today, is still constantly on the lookout for potential dangers.

It’s continually scanning the environment and alerting you to anything that has the POTENTIAL to be harmful. Your brain zooms in its attention on the negative and amplifies your awareness of it.

Positive things are nice to have but easy to ignore because they don’t require immediate action.

So, what should you expect as you progress through these exercises in gratitude?

Well, it’s basically like gymnastics for your poor Palaeolithic brain.

Here are some things to consider:

  • You might not feel a whole lot at first. And that’s okay. Perfectly normal! Gratitude kind of needs to be awakened in you for you to fully experience it. Think of it as reaching critical mass before it really makes an impact – kind of like how you don’t really pay that much attention to pouring water into a glass until it suddenly flows over. The more you practice, the easier it gets and the stronger your gratitude will become.
  • It may feel like a chore at times. Yes. Sucks, I know! But again, you’re not just doing a nice la-di-da thing, you’re physically restructuring your brain to work differently – and that takes time + consistent effort. Once you put the work in and your brain starts to accept the upgrade, it’ll get a whole lot more efficient at running it too.
  • You may experience negative emotions. This is also normal! As you work to get your brain to change how it’s been doing things for a remarkably long time, it’s gonna throw every tantrum it has in its back pocket. Resistance, envy, resentment, disgust, sadness, anger – you name it! Just accept whatever comes, let it go and keep showing up to do the work.

And while we’re at it, let me bust a myth too: no, gratitude doesn’t make you complacent!

I know this is a common fear, but studies actually suggest the opposite is true.

Rather than making you complacent, gratitude imbues you with a sense of purpose to do more, and it acts like a driving force that helps you to accomplish your goals faster.

Consciously practising gratitude will actually make you more successful because it gifts you with the happiness advantage.

And, as you remember, that comes with a bunch of benefits – being 31% more productive, 3x more creative, 19% more accurate, 37% more successful, 10x more engaged, etc.

Because your brain functions better when it’s in a positive state.

So, it’s totally worth it to train it to be in that positive state by default. Even if it takes some hard work!


  • What three things went well today?
  • What is your favourite piece of clothing that you own and why?
  • What knowledge are you grateful that you’ve gained in life?