This time of year, I’m reminded of the connection between gratitude and happiness and the need to get more of both. I’ve noticed people tend to spend more time focusing on what is wrong and not enough about what is right in their lives.
For some people, it’s their job. People in professions like tax accounting, auditing, and law may be even more focused on the wrong—the mistakes—because that’s what they are trained and paid to do: to find the wrong and fix it.
What happens when we focus on what’s wrong more than what’s right? Harvard researcher Shawn Achor calls it the Tetris Effect. I call it “What You Think About Is What You Think About.” Granted, Shawn’s title is catchier, but mine is more descriptive.
Four years ago, a Google search for gratitude + happiness yielded 14.6 million results. This month, the same search yielded 25.8 million results. That’s 11.2 million more instances of gratitude + happiness online. Now that in itself is something I’m grateful for, and it makes me happy. That means more people discussing, researching, writing about and considering the combination of gratitude and happiness at reputable institutions such as The New York Times, Harvard, Psychology Today and Forbes.
In a research study, 27 Harvard students were paid to play the videogame Tetris for multiple hours a day, three days in a row. In the following days, the students reported they couldn’t stop seeing the Tetris shapes everywhere they looked. Their brains kept trying to rearrange everything—from buildings and trees on the landscape to cereal boxes on the shelf in the grocery store—to form a solid line so as to advance to the next level of the videogame. They couldn’t stop seeing the world as sequences of Tetris blocks!
This is caused by a natural physical process that actually changes the wiring of the brain. These new neural pathways warped the way these students viewed real-life situations. When people are focused on something—anything—their brains adapt and hone in on those circumstances and events.
A tax accountant may be terrific at her job, but when she brings her way of looking at the world home, she will miss seeing all the good in her life and may be on the road to depression. The same goes for the great attorney, who may be terrific in court but not so much at home, where family members feel like they are participants in a deposition.
Think about what you think about. When you notice something good happening, really notice it. Relish it. The more you can take notice, the more you will begin to see. Revisit my blog post What Went Well to learn a great technique for boosting your awareness and gratitude for the happy moments in life.
Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principals of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.