One of the challenges I’m recognising through writing is that I’m able to focus only a limited number of things at once if I’m going to give them more than a superficial treatment.

So I’m reading Deep Work, by Cal Newport. A summary will follow when I’ve finished reading, and in the meantime a passage struck me that I want to share.

Cal Newport quotes from Rapt, by Winifred Gallagher. After she received a diagnosis for cancer she says:

“This disease wanted to monopolize my attention but as much as possible, I would focus on my life instead.”

She noticed that her commitment to focus on what was good in her life “movies, walks, and a 6:30 martini” worked surprisingly well. Her life during the period of her treatment should have been mired in fear and pity, but it was instead, she noted, often quite pleasant.

After altMBA9 I had extra coaching sessions and as there were things causing me aggravation at the time one of the activities was to keep a gratitude journal. It wasn’t easy at first, but after doing it for a while I started to see that it’s all about what you choose to focus on. When you start to look for and identify things you can be grateful for, your mindset shifts.

I’ve been at a company event today and, unexpectedly, the topic of gratitude came up in the context of how to have a good day. Seeing a fellow developer quote Stoic philosophy was quite surprising.

In The Daily Stoic, Ryan Holiday quotes:

“In all things we should try to make ourselves be as grateful as possible. For gratitude is a good thing for ourselves, in a manner in which justice, commonly held to belong to others, is not. Gratitude pays itself back in large measure.” – SENECA, MORAL LETTERS, 81.19

and continues:

Think of all the things you can be grateful for today. That you are alive, that you live in a time primarily of peace, that you have enough health and leisure to read this book. What of the little things? The person who smiled at you, the woman who held the door open, that song you like on the radio, the pleasant weather.

Gratitude is infectious. Its positivity is radiant.

Even if today was your last day on earth— if you knew in advance that it was going to end in a few short hours— would there still be plenty to be grateful for? How much better would your life be if you kicked off every day like that? If you let it carry through from morning to night and touch every part of your life?

Upward Spiral includes a number of techniques on improving your mood, and has a section on gratitude.

[…] effect of gratitude is greatest in people with highest levels of hopelessness.

Gratitude also reduces anxiety. Both worry and anxiety arise out of the possibility that something bad might happen. But the brain can focus on so many things at once, so when you’re thankful for the good things that might occur in future, gratitude replaces those negatives feelings, and the worry evaporates.

The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine. Additionally, gratitude towards others increases activity in social dopamine circuits, which makes social interactions more enjoyable.

Gratitude also boosts serotonin and improves sleep.

It sounds contrived, but it does make a difference. Start keeping a gratitude journal.

Take a few minutes every day to write down three things you’re grateful for. To make it a better habit, try doing it at the same time every day. If you can’t think of three things, just write one. If you can’t think of even one thing, just write “I’m grateful for the food I ate today” or “I’m grateful for the clothes I’m wearing.” Even if your day is 90 percent what you don’t want, you can still be grateful for the other 10 percent.