The “gratitude swap” — super simple habit for squashing negative noise

Most of the thoughts floating around my head in a given moment are, for lack of a kinder word, bullshit.

The human brain is capable of miraculous things. Brains landed one of our kind on the moon; brains belonging to people like Beethoven and Bukowski produced brilliant works of art; brains keep us alive in situations that would kill any other animal. Yet my miraculous brain, capable of great heights, gets lost instead in the shallow stream.

“Does that asshole really have his car speakers turned up that loud?”

“Oh, great. Rain. That’s just what I needed.”

And of course, my favorite: “Ahh! Just missed the subway!! God damn it!” (Complete with the hands-coming-up “wtf” pose).

“Ya missed the train?” “I missed the train!”

These thoughts are useless. Unskillful. Capable only of creating more unhappiness.

To keep these incessant thoughts from cannibalizing even more headspace, I use a tactic so simple — almost childish — that I’m always a bit surprised when it works.

I simply counter the unskillful thought with a feeling of intense gratitude. The Gratitude Swap.

Yes, that guy has his car speakers up loud. I’ll live. The sun is out, and it’s a beautiful day today.

Yes, it’s raining. But the feeling of raindrops on my skin is nice in its own way. Even refreshing. And I’ve got a warm home to go back to and dry off in.

Yes, I missed the subway. So what? There will be another. I have all my limbs, and they’re working perfectly. Isn’t that just amazing? What would it be like to be navigating the subway in a wheelchair? I probably wouldn’t be complaining about missing a train by thirty seconds.

The Gratitude Swap works for two reasons:

  1. It recognizes the unskillful thought for the nonsense that it is, and
  2. It focus my brain on something that I’m grateful for, which brute-forces it into a better mood.

This is for the nonsense thoughts only. You can’t blot out all negative emotions with happy thoughts — that’s its own form of delusion. But try refocusing the incessant noise of trivial, unskillful thinking into feelings of gratitude. You’ll bring sanity back into your inner mental life and give your brain space to reach those mighty heights above.

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