The Gratitude Connection: Where Will You Always Find Gratitude?

What role does gratitude play in your life? Gratitude Connection columns and International Institute of Learning Vice-President, Judith Umlas in her acclaimed books, Grateful Leadership, Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results and The Power of Acknowledgment will help you see the possibilities.

ARTICLE SUMMARY: Psychologist Lisa Barrett shares how the brain constructs emotions in a way that could revolutionize our understanding of the human mind. She overturns the long-standing belief that emotions are automatic and hardwired in different brain regions. Instead, we construct each instance of emotion through a unique interplay of brain, body, and culture. When we are more positive, thankful, and affirming — we can change “status quo thinking”. That way true Grateful Leadership can take root and make an effective difference.

You don’t know your own mind.

– Jonathan Swift

A few weeks ago, we observed Valentine’s day with fond feelings for our loves or would be loves. How does Cupid unfailingly find the right target? But what if the little cherub aimed 15 inches or so higher, would that make him a bad shot? Apparently not, according to brain research. In her 2017 breakthrough book, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett explained the origin of emotions in complex brains linked to sensory networks, maps of the world, continuous cogitation and interactions with others.

Yes, we build our emotions and that includes love and gratitude on our minds as well as in our hearts on Valentine’s and other red-letter days. Sensations and desires take some responding and pondering as well. Feelings we passionately engender or are forced to embody are made out of basic sensations followed by contemplation. We create consciously and subconsciously what they come to mean to us, but our whole bodies and nervous systems linking them to the brain begin with a need to predict what comes next.

In Barrett’s second published effort in three years directed at general readers, she has produced a smaller volume of just 180 pages total, but this 2020 book, 7 ½ Lessons About the Brain, delivers messages just as important and startling as those in her 2017 work. One observation, the reader should note, is how closely the author works with both neuroscientists and biologists as well as other psychologists. The new science brings some wonderful surprises. All of us should be grateful for the astounding work our brains do for us every day. Working with our bodies it receives countless signals and processed feedback literally all the time. The brain is the grateful leader in each one of us. If you were forced to be conscious of the neural traffic back and forth, you would never know what to make of it. But your brain does.

To begin with your networked system of intelligence is well enough constructed to avoid the confusion that would follow if every cell or neuron was connected to every other. As the receiver of patterns your brain creates networks to respond to them. At the right intervals it screens out the trivial and the noisy. Were your nervous system not so strategic, you could not survive. Be calm and let your brain carry on. Worried about health and fitness? Through a calibrated delivery system neuroscientists call “the body budget” your brain orders up energy when you need it and saves it when you don’t. Shouldn’t we be grateful for the executive sitting on our shoulders?

Barrett suggests that what makes homo sapiens so effective, so likely to survive for decent lengths of time, is that our skulls contain the versatility of the Swiss army knife. Lots of tools are available to open up as required. Most are not outstanding, but totally adequate for foreseeable circumstances. Humans have neither the strength of grizzlies, the social organization of ants, the speed of antelopes, the eye of eagles, nor the speed of cheetahs. However, we possess capabilities in good enough measure to survive and often control what we care about. The big advantage for us as for other animals ranging from primate relatives to octopi is brainpower.
A well-integrated brain gives the possessor the versatility of choice and for our species, the capacity to make and use tools. How clever of us, you might be tempted to say.
That would be missing the point. As Barrett emphasizes, brains did not form for thinking; they developed to increase survival odds. Brains must ensure the continuance of individuals long enough to reproduce and raise young. That is the half lesson Lisa Feldman Barrett leads with.

We used to think brain anatomy was behavioral destiny. Since the structure of our noodles consisted of a small lizard brain we share with reptiles, a limbic system only mammals enjoy and a massive neocortex unique to humans we assumed the first of these was devoted to instinctive basic responses, the second to the emotional life of warm-blooded creatures that care for their young and the third that big neocortex defining humans as intellectual superstars. Except, as Barrett explains, the brain’s networks are brain wide. The brain looks like three separate compartments but functions as a single unit. Your thoughts, feelings and built-in reactive functions are connected when you make decisions Brain-based actions, sentiments and ideas inform each other wherever they originate. Lesson One – We have one brain not three.

Individual neurons and clusters are set up hub and spoke style like the world’s system of air traffic connections. If every airport had connecting flights to every other, the traffic flow would be uncontrollable. Travellers, like messages travelling through, from and into brains, hop, skip and jump from smaller to larger centers and vice versa. Not perfect but still quick and reliable. Brains like planes thereby form networks – Lesson Two.

Networking as we’re discovering in through the internet, is where it’s at. Babies, mostly helpless begin life by wiring themselves to their newly discovered worlds. Baby brains are dedicated to survival. Voracious bodily needs drive them to connect by charming. Smiling does not just happen because they like faces. Little brains wire themselves to their world – Lesson Three.

We know the brain also supports the body as motor and sensory networks carry messages between the brain and all the other parts. Those parts in turn anticipate arising needs and prepare for instructions in advance. In emergencies or simply to expedite, your body’s network, realizing what you intend, only tells headquarters after the fact! The body-mind connection is a two-way street. Your brain predicts (almost) everything you do – Lesson Four.

The last three lessons build on the first four and a half. Your brain not only consolidates its capabilities to help you function, but also links yours and others’ minds without your awareness. It influences changes in mood that alert you to new risks or opportunities redirecting you accordingly. Continuous pruning of recall creates your reality while contributing to everyone else’s. Your brain builds meaning and everything you will be grateful for. It even plays Cupid by determining attraction. How, but through the wisdom of your brain can you harvest that deep, if imagined understanding of who you (will) love? – Lessons Five, Six and Seven.