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Mental subtraction of relationships (DW#660)

All of us have relationships in our lives that are a blessing and also perhaps a relationship or two that can feel like quite a challenge at times.

It is easy for the challenging relationship to take up more than its fair share of space in our mental and emotional bandwidth. Today’s practice can help redress this balance.

The next time you are with a group of friends and/or family, try this:

1. Pause for a moment and consider a single person.
2. Think back to where and how you met this person. If they are a family member, recall your first memories with them.
3. Think about all of the possible events and decisions—large and small—that could have prevented you from meeting this person, or kept him or her from your life.
4. Imagine what your life would be like now if events had unfolded differently and you had never met this person, or if they had left your life at some earlier point. Bring to mind some of the joys and benefits you have enjoyed as a result of this...

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Mental subtraction (DW#659)

The practice of mental subtraction grew out of a series of experiments designed by UC Berkeley Professor Dr. Laura Kray and her colleagues. She asked people to imagine how their lives would look if a critical past turning point had never happened (e.g., meeting their spouse, getting accepted into college/university, getting a big promotion, meeting a dear friend or mentor). When the people in the experiment "mentally subtracted" this important event from their lives, it led to an increased sense of meaning and appreciation for what they had in their lives at the present time.

The practice of mental subtraction helps us pause for a moment, it bolsters feelings that life has been meaningful, and it creates a deep sense of appreciation. Rather than succumbing to the pitfall of comparing our blessings to someone who (seemingly) has more than us, the practice compares our current state with an imagined version of ourselves who has less.

So: Imagine what would your life be like without...

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The gratitude letter (DW#652)

Many people believe that today’s practice is perhaps the most powerful gratitude exercise there is. It is in two parts (we will talk about part two tomorrow inshallah).

The exercise involves writing a letter to someone who has exerted a positive influence in your life but whom you have not properly thanked. This can be a teacher or a mentor from your past, a grandparent, or anyone else who helped you in some way.

Here is how to write the letter:

· Address the person directly.
· Describe what this person has done that makes you grateful, and how they have impacted your life. Be as concrete and detailed as possible.
· Describe what you are doing in life now, and how frequently you remember their act of kindness or generosity.
· The letter does not have to be long as long as it contains some detail of what you appreciate about their actions.
· Here is an example:
To my grade 8 teacher

Dear Ms Shah

I realized that you may not realize how...

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Why we like grateful people (DW#629)

Yesterday we discussed how gratitude makes us likable. Today let’s explore this a little further. Author LaDonna Greiner explores the question of what exactly makes grateful people popular and likeable.

Here are some reasons she gives:

1. Grateful people make good teammates.

Grateful people are more likely to pitch in to support their team and do so in a gracious manner since they appreciate the contribution, skills and talents of others. Grateful people recognize that their success rests on the shoulders of many other people.

2.Grateful people share.

They realize that when you give to others in a sincere and pure manner, it comes back to you tenfold. Thankful people are 20% more generous with their time and money than those who are ungrateful.

We like people who share, whether it’s skills or food, insights or a favourite book. Sharing is a likeable trait. Gratitude helps us feel generous and generosity increases popularity.

3. Grateful people create connections.

Greiner...

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The states and traits of gratitude (DW#625)

Yesterday we talked about how focusing on gratitude even once a week can make us happier. Today, let us try and understand this a bit more.

Gratitude makes us feel more gratitude. And more gratitude means more happiness.

The truth is that the actual boost in gratitude and happiness by spending a 2-5 minutes writing a gratitude journal once a week is small. However, the state of gratitude and happiness felt during those five-minutes is enough to trigger a grateful mood.

And while we are in a grateful mood, we tend to feel gratitude more frequently. We tend to notice more things that are going well in our lives. Our focus changes from scarcity (what is missing) thinking to abundance (what we have) thinking.

In other words, the practice of gratitude triggers positive feedback loops. These feedback loops create recurring feelings of gratitude which tend to more intense and they last longer.

The repeated practice of gratitude has the power to change the initial state of gratitude into a...

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Goal achievement on turbo (DW#622)

There is another, subtler reason why pausing and expressing gratitude in the midst of a project can help us get further along the path of goal achievement.

According to researchers Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats, our brains release dopamine (the feel-good hormone) when we achieve goals. Makes sense that we feel good about our achievements, right?

Now, since dopamine improves attention, memory, and motivation(to get more of the feel good sensation), even achieving a small goal can result in a positive feedback loop that makes you more motivated to work harder going forward. When we pause to give gratitude for the achievement, this good-feeling is magnified: first through achieving the goal and secondly by savouring the win through recalling it with gratitude.

This is why we need to stop and give thanks in the pursuit of a goal. If we acknowledge the small wins and milestones along the way, the winning feeling of achievement is deepened and magnified. And it will continue to propel...

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Increase motivation (DW#621)

Sometimes people who are high achievers begin to believe that they must only focus on the future target in order to achieve more. Focusing on what you already have and showing gratitude for it, they think, can leave you feeling complacent and would dampen ambition. In other words, "If I have enough, maybe I don’t need to achieve more."

This prevailing but unproven idea has been debunked by the research done by rock-star gratitude researchers Robert Emmons and Anjali Mishra.

This particular study involved students listing goals they hoped to reach over a two-month period. One group of students were asked to maintain a regular gratitude practice and the other group was not given this instruction. Ten weeks later, when the researchers checked back on the students’ progress, they found that grateful students were closer than others in the study to reaching their goals.

Emmons and Mishra concluded that "gratitude enhances effortful goal striving." In other words, it makes...

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A stress-busting practice (DW#620)

Research shows that gratitude activates our parasympathetic (the calming part of the) nervous system and this results in decreasing cortisol (the stress hormone) levels and therefore reducing stress.

The connection between gratitude and stress may not be immediately obvious. After all, why would my stress go down when I feel grateful for something?

Here are some possible explanations:

The directing of attention: Our brain can generally only focus on one thing at a time. When we intentionally move our attention away from stressful thoughts and instead direct it to a positive memory or experience, it can create a sense of wellbeing and cause us to let go of stress.

Recognizing support:When we direct your gratitude towards people, we recognize that we have been on the receiving end of love and support from people. We realize that we are not alone and that we have resources to deal with stress.

Switching away from automatic negative thinking:Stress is often caused by catastrophizing and...

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An antidote to worrying (DW#619)

Yesterday, we discussed how insomnia is a common ailment in modern times. Today’s let’s talk about another very common ailment of life in the 21stcentury: anxiety.

If you ever worry, have nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome, know that you are not alone.

As humans, we are naturally inclined to worry about things. It may help to understand that although it does not feel good at the time, worrying can actually have a calming effect on the limbic system of the brain. When you are worrying, your mind feels like it is "doing something" about the situation by trying to see all of the possibilities or figure out a solution (often obsessively).

However, although understandable, worrying is uncomfortable and generally not productive. So do you want to consider a way both to feel good AND give your brain something to do to keep it occupied? If so, consider interrupting the anxiety/worry spiral by asking yourself one or...

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A cure for insomnia (DW#618)

Do you have trouble falling or staying asleep? So many of us do, these days. Sometimes the insomnia is caused by our busy lives, by thoughts about what went wrong during the day or what might go wrong the next day. These thoughts spin around in our heads and stop us from relaxing so that we can drift off to sleep.

Here is how gratitude can help.

Various studies have found that people with sleep disorders responded well to a gratitude practice. A gratitude practice such as journaling improved both duration and quality of sleep.

In research, gratitude was related to having more positive thoughts, and fewer negative ones at bedtime. This, in turn, was associated with dozing off faster and sleeping longer and better.

So it seems that when you cultivate gratitude throughout the day, and practice it at bedtime as well, you're more likely to have positive thoughts as you're drifting off to sleep. Rather than ruminating over the friend who let you down, you are more likely to think of...

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