Winter Snowbow Pic - no complaints gratitude jill hewlett toronto


Do you feel at all uncomfortable when people complain around you?

If so, there’s good reason.

Listening to too much complaining is actually bad for your brain. It affects your mood, can kill off brain cells and makes you less effective.

Turns out, neuroscientists can measure brain activity when faced with various stimuli, including a lengthy complaint session.

Research shows that 30 minutes or more of negativity actually peels away neurons in the brain’s hippocampus.

The hippocampus is a small organ located in the brain’s medial temporal lobe. It forms an important part of the limbic system which regulates emotions. It is associated with memory – in particular long-term memory and plays an important role in spatial navigation.  Clearly we don’t want to compromise or lose it.

So does this mean we avoid all forms of negativity? What about constructive criticism?

Sometimes the best and most valuable feedback comes from an unhappy customer; or the honesty of your child when they let you know how they really feel about something.

If you want to run a successful business or be a wise and understanding parent, this kind of input is priceless.

Ultimately, there is a big difference between bringing something to one’s attention for changes or improvements vs. complaining out of judgement, just for the sake of it.

One of the chapters in my first book is titled, “Sympathy or Solution,” which refers to how we can effectively support a person who is dealing with an issue. Sometimes a shoulder to cry on or an ear to vent in is what we require. Other times we need a solid solution, pronto.

Regardless, even if we start with the sympathy route, at some point if the situation doesn’t resolve itself, we will need a solution.

Complaining is okay in periodic and brief stints; as it may show us we are dissatisfied with a situation and cause us to make some timely and important changes. But since what we focus on expands; solely complaining is only going to cause more of what we don’t want to amplify.

In the meantime, if you have noticed that seeing your life from a cup half empty viewpoint has become an ineffective habit, and you want to do something about it, then I have great news for you!

You can easily begin to shift your energy and focus to more beneficial state with a simple daily practise that will take your mind off what’s not working, and put the emphasis on what is working. Very quickly you will feel a refreshed sense of positivity, confidence and ‘can do’ attitude!

You probably already guessed, this is a GRATITUDE PRACTICE.

Led by the Greater Goods Science Center at UC Berkley and sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation as part of the Expanding Gratitude project, a study on the effect of gratitude on mental health was done.

This study involved nearly 300 adults, mostly college students who were seeking mental health counselling at University.

  • First group was instructed to write one letter of gratitude to another person each week for three weeks
  • Second group was asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences.
  • Third group did not do any writing activity.

The outcomes:  

Compared with the participants who wrote about negative experiences or only received counseling, those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended.

As well, practicing gratitude on top of receiving psychological counseling carries greater benefits than counseling alone; even when the gratitude practice is brief.

Key takeaways:

  1. Gratitude un-tethers us from toxic emotions: It was only when people used fewer negative emotion words (less complaining) in their letters that they were significantly more likely to report better mental health. In fact, it was the lack of negative emotion words—not the abundance of positive words—that explained the mental health gap between the gratitude writing group and the other writing group.
  2. Gratitude helps even if you don’t share it: Only 23 percent of participants who wrote gratitude letters sent them. But those who didn’t send their letters enjoyed the benefits of experiencing gratitude nonetheless. It seems that mental health benefits of writing gratitude letters are not entirely dependent on actually communicating that gratitude to another person. Although it could be nice thing to do – and perhaps enhance the gratitude benefits.
  3. Gratitude’s benefits take time: Individuals in the gratitude group reported better mental health than the others four weeks after the writing activities; and this difference in mental health became even larger 12 weeks after the writing activities. Be patient, it may take time for the benefits to be noticeable.

Gratitude; a simple, no cost activity, with clearly lots of return!

Since much of people’s time and energy is spent pursuing things we currently don’t have, gratitude shifts our priorities. It helps us appreciate the people and things in our lives right now. And it takes our focus from complaining to praising and from the future, to the present.

To Your Positive Attitude,