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Everybody is familiar with the feeling
that things are not as they should be.
That you're not successful enough,
your relationship's not satisfying enough,
that you don't have the things you crave.
A chronic dissatisfaction
that makes you look outwards with envy
and inwards with disappointment.
Pop culture, advertising, and
social media make this worse
by reminding you that aiming for anything
less than your dream job is failure,
you need to have great
experiences constantly,
be conventionally attractive,
have a lot of friends,
and find your soulmate,
and that others
have all of these things
and are truly happy.
And, of course, a vast array of
self-improvement products
implies that it's all your fault for
not working hard enough on yourself.
In the last two decades,
researchers have been starting
to investigate how we can
counteract these impulses.
The field of positive psychology emerged,
the study of what makes life worth living,
while cognitive behavioral therapy
was developed to change negative feelings.
Scientists began to ask
"Why are some people happier
and more satisfied than others?"
"And are there ways to apply what
they're doing right to the rest of us?"
In this video, we want to talk about
one of the strongest predictors of
how happy people are,
how easily they make friends,
and how good they are at
dealing with hardship.
An antidote to dissatisfaction, so to speak:
Gratitude.
While gratitude may sound like another
self-improvement trend,
preached by people who use hashtags,
what we currently know about it is based on a body of scientific work and studies.
We'll include them in the description.
Gratitude can mean very different things to different people in different contexts.
It's a character trait, a feeling, a virtue, and a behavior.
You can feel grateful towards someone who did something for you,
for random events, like the weather,
or even for nature or fate,
and it's wired into our biology.
1: How Gratitude Connects Us to Each Other.
The predecessor of gratitude is probably reciprocity.
It likely evolved as a biological signal
that motivates animals to exchange things for their mutual benefit
and can be found in the animal kingdom
among certain fish, birds, or mammals,
but especially in primates.
When your brain recognizes that someone's done something nice for you,
it reacts with gratitude to motivate you to repay them.
This gratitude makes you care about others,
and others care about you.
This was important
because, as human brains got better at reading emotions,
selfish individuals were identified and shunned.
It became an evolutionary advantage to play well with others
and build lasting relationships.
For example, if you were hungry
and someone else showed you where to find tasty berries,
you felt gratitude towards them
and a bond to return the favor in the future,
a drive to be pro-social.
When you repaid them, they felt gratitude towards you.
This brought your ancestors closer together
and forged bonds and friendships.
So, early forms of gratitude were biological mechanisms
that modified your behavior towards cooperation,
which helped humans to dominate Earth.
But, over time,
gratitude became more than just an impulse to play fair.
2: The Consequences of Gratitude
Scientists found that gratitude stimulates the pathways in your brain
involved in feelings of reward,
forming social bonds,
and interpreting other's intentions.
It also makes it easier to save and retrieve positive memories
Even more, gratitude directly counteracts negative feelings and traits,
like envy and social comparison,
narcissism,
cynicism,
and materialism.
As a consequence, people who are grateful, no matter what for,
tend to be happier and more satisfied.
They have better relationships,
an easier time making friends.
They sleep better,
tend to suffer less from depression, addiction, and burnout,
and are better at dealing with traumatic events.
In a way, gratitude makes it less likely that you'll fall into
one of the psychological traps modern life has set for you.
For example, gratitude measurably counters
the tendency to forget and downplay positive events.
If you work long and hard for something,
actually getting it can feel daft and empty.
You can find yourself emotionally back where you started
and try to achieve the next biggest thing,
looking for that satisfaction,
instead of being satisfied with yourself.
Or, imagine being lonely and wanting to have more friends.
You actually might have someone
or even multiple people who want to hang out,
but you might feel that this is not enough,
that you're a loser and feel bad about yourself.
So you might turn down their attempts to hang out
and become more lonely.
If you feel grateful for your relationships instead,
you might accept invitations
or even take the initiative.
The more often you risk opening up,
the higher the chance of solidifying relationships
and meeting new people.
In the best case, gratitude can trigger a feedback loop.
Positive feelings lead to more pro-social behavior,
which leads to more positive social experiences
that cause more positive feelings.
This is a common experience after serious hardship,
like chemotherapy, for example.
Life can feel amazing after a crisis is over.
The smallest things can be bottomless sources of joy,
from being able to taste
to just sitting in the sun or chatting with a friend.
Objectively, your life is the same or maybe even slightly worse than before,
but your brain compares your present experiences
with the times when life was bad
and reacts with gratitude.
So, in a nutshell,
gratitude refocuses your attention towards the good things you have,
and the consequences of this shift
are better feelings and more positive experiences.
While it is great to know these things,
is there actually a way for you to feel more of it?
3: How To Make Your Brain More Grateful
The ability to experience more or less gratitude
is not equally distributed.
You have what's known as trait gratitude,
that determines how much you are able to feel it.
It depends on your genetics, personality, and culture.
This discovery made scientists wonder
if they could design exercises that change your trait gratitude
and lead to more happiness.
Let's start with important caveats.
It's not yet entirely clear to what degree gratitude can be trained
or how long the effects last.
There are no magic pills for happiness.
Life is complicated.
On some days, it feels like you're in control of yourself,
and, on others, you feel like you're not.
And this is okay.
Also, sometimes pursuing happiness can make you more unhappy
if you put too much pressure on yourself.
Gratitude should also not be seen as a solution to depression
or a substitute for professional help,.
It can only be a piece of the puzzle.
It's not the solution to the puzzle itself.
The easiest gratitude exercise, with the most solid research behind it,
is gratitude journaling.
It means sitting down for a few minutes,
one to three times a week,
and writing down five to ten things you're grateful for
It might feel weird at first,
so start simply.
Can you feel grateful for a little thing?
Like how great coffee is,
or that someone was kind to you.
Can you appreciate something someone else did for you?
Can you reflect on which things or people you would miss if they were gone
and be grateful that they're in your life?
We're all different,
so you'll know what works for you.
And that's it, really.
It feels almost insulting,
like things shouldn't be that simple.
But in numerous studies,
the participants reported more happiness
and a higher general life satisfaction
after doing this practice for a few weeks.
And, even more,
studies have found changes in brain activity
some months after they ended.
Practicing gratitude may be a real way to reprogram yourself.
This research shows that your emotions are not fixed.
In the end, how you experience life
is a representation of what you believe about it.
If you attack your core beliefs about yourself and your life,
you can change your thoughts and feelings,
which automatically changes your behavior.
It's pretty mind-blowing that something as simple as self-reflection
can hack the pathways in our brain to fight dissatisfaction.
And, if this is no reason to be more optimistic,
what is?
Being a human is hard,
but it doesn't need to be as hard.
And, if you actively look,
you might find that your life is much better than you thought.
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If you're curious and want to try out gratitude,
we made a thing.
Please note that you don't need to buy anything from anyone to practice gratitude.
All you need is paper, a pen, and five minutes.
Having said that, we've made a Kurzgesagt gratitude journal,
based on studies we've read,
conversations with experts,
and our personal experiences with gratitude over the last year.
It's structured in a way that might make it a bit easier
to get into the habit of gratitude journaling.
There are short explanations and reflections to mix it up
and make it more interesting.
We've also made it as pretty as we could.
This video continues the unofficial series
of more personal, introspective videos,
from optimistic nihilism to loneliness and now gratitude.
We don't want to be a self-help channel,
so we'll keep this sort of video at roughly one per year.
We hope they're helpful to some of you.
Thank you for watching.
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