Last summer, I reported on one of the most important discoveries of neuroscience in the past decade. A quick summary:
Most people realize that the mind and body are connected into a feedback loop. However, because they know that body-centric lifestyle changes (like diet and exercise) are difficult to maintain, neuroscientists have identified the one thought that, when regularly focused upon, is most likely to propel your mind and body into an upward spiral: gratitude.
Of course, it's quite easy to focus on gratitude when everything is going swimmingly and all's right with the world. It's far, far more difficult to feel grateful when you're sheltering in place, worried about dying, or dealing with grief.
But I think, for the good of yourself and those around you, you must try. This is especially true if you're a leader, in business or elsewhere. People take their cues from leaders, and it's easier to feel a positive emotion when others are feeling it as well.
There is one proviso here. Gratitude communicates itself to other through mirror neurons, not through words and especially not through brags and humblebrags (like the despicable David Geffen and his yacht).
Help others be grateful, be grateful for their presence in your life.
Remember: The opposite of gratitude is not ingratitude (that's just its absence) but despair. And that's an emotion that, if you let it consume you, will destroy you. Worse, despair is contagious, so if you go there, you could be passing it along to others; a virus of its own.
Yes, these are terrible times. Yes, governments have bungled badly. Yes, people are dying. It would be inhuman not to feel grief, and even more inhuman--insanely insensitive, really--to "stick a smile on your face" or make happy-talk about positivity.
It is a time for grief, especially for those who've already lost a loved one during this ongoing disaster. It's also a time for fear, because this is real. And it's a time for empathy, because there are so many who so worse off.
Nevertheless, to keep yourself and those around you strong and healthy, it behooves you to focus--as much as you can manage--on being grateful for something, anything...even if it's only that you're still alive.
Because what inevitably emerges from gratitude is hope. And as the ancient Greeks knew, when Pandora accidentally loosed evil and pestilence in the world, it was hope that made the fallen world bearable.
I'm a baby boomer still recovering from open heart surgery. If I ended up in a hospital now, I'd be the guy who, if they ran short, might not get an inhalator because--let's face it--I'm probably not going to make it. I'm terrified.
If the worst happens, though, I'll try to remain thankful that my wife and kids are OK, for their sake if not my own. I'll try to remain thankful that I've lived a full life. I'll probably fail at it, but I'm going to try.
Meanwhile, I'm deeply thankful for the opportunity to spend these days with my family. I'm also thankful that I can share these thoughts with you readers, because I feel like we've all been on a journey together over the 12 years that I've been writing this column.