Write a gratitude list they say, think positively they say. Okay, easy and cheap enough to try, but does it work? And where is the line between positivity and toxic positivity? The answer is yes, it works. Below I'll give you the neuroscience explanation about why it works.
The reticular activating system (RAS) is a part of the brain responsible for filtering and prioritizing incoming sensory information. It helps regulate attention and focus by determining what information is relevant and deserves conscious awareness. In relation to a gratitude practice, the RAS plays a significant role. When you engage in a gratitude practice, which involves consciously focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of your life, you are essentially training your RAS to recognize and prioritize those positive experiences.
By consistently practicing gratitude, you direct your attention toward positive events, people, and circumstances. This repetitive focus on gratitude activates the RAS, causing it to filter incoming information in a way that highlights more positive elements in your daily life. It essentially helps you notice and appreciate the things you may have otherwise overlooked or taken for granted.
Over time, as your RAS becomes attuned to gratitude, you may start to notice an increase in positive experiences, a greater sense of well-being, and an enhanced overall outlook on life. This is because your brain becomes more adept at filtering and amplifying positive stimuli, leading to a positive feedback loop.
The practice of gratitude influences the functioning of the reticular activating system by training it to selectively filter and prioritize positive experiences, which can result in an increased awareness of and appreciation for the good things in your life. Now that doesn't mean you have to be positive all of the time or that it's helpful to suggest a gratitude practice to someone in the throes of crisis or grief, but little steps toward attuning yourself to notice what is working for you and move past what is not (at least a little faster), can make you a happier, more content human.