Three Challenges To My Gratitude: Challenge #1, My Amygdala

Gratitude pauses time and says, “right here, right now, I am thankful.” Gratitude stills my appetite for material pleasure, fame, physical gratification and money, and says “right now, this moment, I am enough. I have enough. Life is good.” Happiness research constantly lists gratitude as a major factor in one’s happiness, and I believe gratitude is a shortcut to living a meaningful and happy life.

So why don’t I feel grateful more often? I mean, I’m uber thankful for the life I’ve been given, but I don’t take much time to consciously feel thankful. Why?

With that question on my mind, I’ve been observing my thought patterns, and I’ve come up with three specific challenges to my gratitude. My goal hasn’t been to come up with solutions to these challenges, just to mindfully observe them. But if you have solutions to these challenges, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

In this post, I’ll tell you about the first challenge.

Challenge #1: My Amygdala 

Every second, our brains are bombarded with information and we somehow have to sift through and determine what is critical and what is casual. Since nothing is more critical to the brain than survival, the first filter all this information goes through is the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the center of the brain, whose job is to find anything that could threaten our survival. The amygdala is a warning system, and it’s always on high alert.

Ptsd-brain (1)

I’ve found that when I listen to the news, my amygdala goes into hyper-kid-in-candy-store-mode. The news media is a steady stream of news about potential threats to my happiness, whether it’s terrorism in the middle east, the economy, or some scandal in my state’s government. News outlets are privy to the fact that as a human, I feel an innate, evolutionary duty to learn about any potential threat to my health and happiness, and they exploit these human instincts all day long. “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Is There A Solution?

I dunno. I can’t turn my amygdala off, and I’m not sure that would be wise. Without it, I’d probably go base jumping every weekend and spend all my allowance at YogurtLand. But thanks to the book Abundance by Steven Kotler and Peter Diamondes, I now at least recognize the fact that my amygdala is often telling me lies, or at least distorting the truth. Here are some trends my amygdala ignores, and of which I should be mindful when choosing how to see the world:

  • Poverty has declined more in the past 50 years than in the previous 500. Over the past 50 years, while Earth’s population has doubled, the average per capita income globally (adjust for inflation) has tripled.
  • During the past century, maternal mortality has decreased by 90 percent, child mortality has decreased by 99 percent, and the length of the average human lifespan has more than doubled
  • Homicide rates are a hundred times less than they were when they peaked 500 years ago
  • Even the poorest Americans today have access to phones, toilets, running water, air conditioning, transportation. 150 years ago, not even kings hoped for such luxury
  • Right now, members of the poorest communities in Africa have access to better cell phones than the President of the US had 25 years ago, and if they’re on Google, they have more information than the President did just 15 years ago

We are healthier, wealthier, and safer than ever before, and the trends are mostly upward.

I’ve also learned that I don’t really lose much by not frequenting news sites daily. I’m slightly less informed, but I’m also more calm and happy when I don’t feed that stuff to my amygdala. I guess there’s a balance to be found.

Through mindful observation, I’ve come to see just how much my amygdala challenges my gratitude. In my next post, I’ll talk about another challenge called “Planned Obsolescence.”

In the mean time, have you found a good solution for keeping your amygdala in check? Do share.

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