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How to Turn Down the Noise in Your Life


Study after study has shown that stress can rob us of our concentration. And the only thoughts that are strong enough to compete with stress are those of appreciation — so concluded Hans Selye, M.D., the endocrinologist who discovered biological stress back in 1956. Focus expert Lucy Jo Palladino, Ph.D., explains why being thankful soothes us: "Our thoughts of gratitude decrease the fight-or-flight brain chemical norepinephrine, and that returns us to a relaxed yet alert state."

You can develop gratitude as a practical skill, adds Palladino: Every night, write down five things from the day that you're thankful for — even little occurrences. Listing them will improve your outlook, research shows. And when you're under stress at work and can't think straight, step back from your emotions and find reasons to be grateful: Not everyone has such a good job. My demanding boss is upgrading my skills and making me more marketable. My coworkers are real lifesavers.

A Japanese approach to gratitude, Naikan, is a powerful alternative: Think with appreciation of everyone in the chain of action who produced that take-out salad you had for lunch: the farmer who planted the seeds for the lettuce, the workers who gathered it, the truckers who transported it, the chef who purchased it, the kitchen staff who washed and cut it, the cashier who rang it up. When you reflect on all the people and forces that brought that salad to you, you'll appreciate its taste and nourishment even more.

Or start your day the way the Iroquois do. For thousands of years, they've greeted the morning with a prayer thanking the natural world for its life-sustaining gifts, naming each one — the sun, waters, plants, animals, stars, and so on. "In today's world, you could adapt that practice by looking out the window and giving thanks for all you see," says Palladino. "Even when the car needs an overhaul or you found a new wrinkle this morning, this practice refocuses you on the gifts that are your natural birthright."


Originally published on October 16, 2008


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