The Power and Beauty of Appreciation


According to the latest scientific findings, there is a biological law that governs every moment and aspect of your life, from your physical health to your thoughts and attitudes to your personal and business relationships. This law states that at every stage of life, we are in either growth mode or protection mode. This is true at the level of the cell, the community of cells that is a person, or a community of people that is a family, an organization, a nation, or a race.

At every stage of life, we are in either growth mode or protection mode. Click To Tweet

Nothing throws us into protection mode like having our buttons pushed. A big challenge we face in creating the lives we want—for ourselves, our children, our businesses—is that our buttons (basic beliefs and attitudes) are a series of neural perception templates that were installed for us long before we had a say in the matter.

Nothing throws us into protection mode like having our buttons pushed. Click To Tweet

Through the stealthy process of implicit learning, our earliest childhood experiences install enduring mental templates that underlie our habitual patterns of thinking or reacting. Wrestling with them as an adult is a little like having someone give you a great computer, and discovering it’s got some basic operating programs you don’t like … but can’t seem to uninstall!

Moreover, this kind of automatic learning features a bad-news bias. Until recently, our survival throughout human history has depended on remembering every detail of how we survived threatening events, so our primitive brain systems pay much more attention to unpleasant or negative experiences, detecting, imprinting, and cataloging them. However, in order to thrive in the 21st Century and beyond, we need to prioritize the positives of human experience—gratitude, appreciation, and connection. This is how we can, for the first time in history, unfold the full potential of our brains, including what brain scientist Paul McLean calls the “angel lobes”—the pre-frontal cortex, which is the seat of introspection, intention, conscience, and civilization. 

Our primitive brain systems pay much more attention to unpleasant or negative experiences,… Click To Tweet

You have probably heard that what we put our attention on increases. When we focus on the positive—beauty, possibility, enjoyment—it’s like putting water and fertilizer on it, making it flourish and multiply. The same thing happens when we zero in on the negative—criticism, losses, and everything that’s wrong. This isn’t just fuzzy “law of attraction” stuff, it’s also Brain Function 101: when we tune our attention in a certain way, either positively or negatively, we initiate a flow of biochemicals that carve brain pathways for more neurons to travel down that same pathway in the next minute, hour, day, year. Our attitude and focus also create a subconscious template of perception that filters the millions of incoming bits of life’s information and captures those bits that match our initial proposition.

When we focus on the positive—beauty, possibility, enjoyment—we make it flourish and multiply Click To Tweet

Can you see how quickly this becomes a feedback loop, spiraling either up or down? Here are some proven ways to interrupt that loop if it’s spiraling downward, that is, when you’re stressed out, upset, or angry:

Breathe. Mindfully take in some slow, deep breaths, holding each one for a few extra counts. This encourages extra oxygenation of the blood going to your brain to help it cope with the neurons firing away like crazy in this intense moment.

Focus on gratitude. Think of something that pulls up the feeling of gratefulness or appreciation from your mental file cabinet, then immerse yourself in that feeling. This is especially helpful when you’re in the grip of anger, because as sophisticated an instrument as your brain is, when you’re in a stressed or highly emotional state, it can only deal with one thing at a time—either upset or appreciation.

Notice and name. The simple act of observing and identifying for yourself the emotions you’re feeling can help the brain structures driving those negative feelings to self-correct and help you find your way back to a lighter, freer emotional tone.

Smile. Research shows that when we smile, even if it at first feels forced because we’re really in a funk, we do get happier. It puts the brain’s own pharmacy to work!

Connect with others. Spend some time in the real (not virtual) presence of someone with whom you feel comfortable, supported, and safe, ideally someone who is centered. Thanks to mirror neurons, another person’s emotional calm can be contagious. One of the primary qualities that characterizes winners and leaders is resilience, the capacity to weather tough times and challenges with equanimity. When we have resilience, we don’t collapse, freak out, or smash things when the pressure’s on. People who score high on resilience also feel comfortable reaching out, and the interdependence of asking for help (and giving it when help is asked of you) is one of the healthiest capacities a person can develop.

Do something. Accept your emotions as they are and do what needs to be done. If the dishes need to be done, do them. It may require an act of will, but an activity as mundane as washing dishes can be surprisingly restorative when we immerse ourselves in each moment’s movement: the warmth and hum of the water, the tangy smell of the soap, the burn of the arm muscle when scrubbing a dirty pot … and the satisfaction of the gleaming result. Which brings us back to appreciation!

These suggestions aren’t just for crisis moments; they are fundamentals for developing our own inner well-being and peace. Our daily life is filled with messages of threat as well as hassles, annoyances, and sometimes unavoidable, real-life grief and pain. Part of the great privilege of our evolutionary inheritance is our self-reflective consciousness: we can make a thought inside our minds more real than anything outside our bodies!

We can make a thought inside our minds more real than anything outside our bodies! Click To Tweet

Evolving ourselves and our species turns on upgrading our perceptions—the story we tell ourselves about what’s happening. That is how we will gloriously transform ourselves from the cell to the global family.


Marcy AxnessMarcy Axness, PhD, is an early development specialist, parent coach, and author of Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers. An authority on adoption, prenatal development and Waldorf education, Dr. Axness is a popular international speaker and has a private practice counseling parents-in-progress. She considers as her most important credential being mother to Ian and Eve, both in their twenties. Marcy is offering Networking Times readers a free copy of her “7-Step Guide: Helping Your Child Release Stuck Behaviors”eBooklet, a unique body-mind tool for parents to use in addressing behavior and/or developmental concerns in children of all ages.



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