Archive for Harvard

What You Think About Is What You Think About

A Google search for gratitude + happiness yields 14,600,000 results (in .20 seconds).

Now that in itself is something that I’m grateful for AND it makes me happy. This Thanksgiving season, I explore the connection between gratitude and happiness and how to get more of both.

I’ve noticed that people tend to spend more time thinking about what goes wrong and not enough about what is going right in their lives. 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 and good in our lives? 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 a bit catchier, but mine is more descriptive.

Here’s the deal: 27 Harvard students were paid to play Tetris for multiple hours a day, three days in a row. For many days after, the students reported that they couldn’t stop seeing the Tetris shapes everywhere they looked, with their brains trying to re-arrange everything – from buildings and trees on the landscape to cereal boxes on the shelf in the grocery store – so that they would fit together to form a solid line so as to move on to the next level of the video game. Put simply, they couldn’t stop seeing the world as being made up of sequences of Tetris blocks!

This is caused by a normal physical process that actually changes the wiring of the brain. These new neural pathways warped the way these students viewed real-life situations. So 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 – terrific in court, but not so much at home where family members feel like they are participants in a deposition!

So think about what you think about. Make notes. Later this week, I’ll share some proven techniques to help you focus on the good things in life, and this will increase your happiness AND gratitude.


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.