Do you ever wonder why, when it’s so simple to NOT take more than your fair share, an instruction (as in the UK in September) to be patient and only buy petrol if needed (rather than panic buying) led to nation wide fuel shortages and actual fights at petrol stations?

Do you ever feel a bit hopeless about humanity?

Maybe when you see the consequences of people (ourselves included) giving into selfish impulses at the expense of the greater good?

This blog post is inspired by David DeSteno’s gorgeous book Emotional Success: The Motivational Power of Gratitude, Compassion and Pride

DeSteno’s book is not only beautifully written and exquisite in its breakdown of the research methods cited throughout (2021 makes this an admittedly very low bar) but epiphany inducing:

Research shows that we practically can’t HELP being selfish when we know that doing The Right Thing will make it better for everyone and the world at large when there’s a risk of us doing MORE than our fair share and, essentially, feeling like a mug.

As humans, we were wired to live in smaller societies where cheats would be held accountable for their dishonesty or selfishness in, for example, taking too much water from the well.

In the modern world, many have a great fear of being in a minority doing The Right Thing and feeling like a mug while it’s almost impossible to tell, in so many situations, who ISN’T acting for the greater good.

This leads to the vast majority of us acting in selfish ways whether to do with following public health guidelines, buying loo roll or taking individual steps to reduce harm to the environment or others.

If, like me, you’re thinking, ‘Not ME. I’d be honest,’ the data sadly shows maybe (probably) NOT

Did you think this post was meant to help you feel more HOPEFUL about humanity?

There’s enormous hope within these pages.

As I mention in 365 Ways to Feel Better: Self-care Ideas for Embodied Wellbeing positive feelings not only help us feel good in the moment but they increase DHEA (a natural performance enhancer) levels while minimising stress (DHEA production inhibits cortisol – a stress hormone – production).

DeSteno examines gratitude, compassion and pride specifically. While written prepandemic (© 2018), Emotional Success speaks to this ‘post-truth’ society we’ve been surviving in for years now.

His findings show that gratitude, compassion and pride promote honest and trustworthy behaviour, leading people to be more loyal and generous. Self control automatically blossoms.

Compassion also enhances a sense of purpose and efficacy. The belief that, as humans, we can make a difference.

And pride increases motivation and dilligence. It creates the energy needed to approach ‘challenging tasks with zeal’.

The self control fostered by these good feelings (compassion, gratitude and pride) is more sustainable than that we’re more used to forcing through willpower

He calls cultivating gratitude, compassion and pride a ‘bottom up approach’ with willpower being ‘top down’.

This aligns with my practice being built around helping people feel better by using the body and breath (sending signals of safety and wellness from body to brain via the vagus nerve – efferent (bottom up)) as well as mindset and other cognitive tools (and, of course, emotions and the part of us that’s so much more than whatever issues we’ve survived or are challenged by in the moment).

By cultivating these three emotions, ‘the engines of character’ as DeSteno calls them, they help us meet whatever obstacles life throws up with grace as well as grit.

Great gratitude

Pollyanna, a children’s literature character created by Eleanor H Porter in 1913, has had some pretty attrocious PR over the decades.

Scorned for her simple ‘glad game’ she’s sometimes been seen as the poster child for toxic positivity. But Pollyanna had grit. She and her dad played The Glad Game to keep their spirits up when facing the daily challenges of poverty. For example, when hoping for a Christmas present and getting a crutch, finding gratitude that she didn’t NEED a crutch.

This training built resilience and while she was obviously impacted by a life changing accident, she was able to (after a very human need to wallow) literally pick herself back up.

If you’re struggling to feel gratitude for anything right now, don’t force it.

Don’t bully yourself into feeling something you don’t feel.

Sit with whatever feelings you DO feel. Know that whatever you’re feeling is OK. You are OK. All WILL be well.

If you DO feel up to it and gratitude isn’t radiating from every pore but you’re excited to build on the inkling of the feeling, make a list.

DeSteno described the importance of gratitude for the little things. The person who lets you go first in a queue. Tiny little kindnesses it’s easy to be oblivious to but which actually help the world go round.

List 10 of these small things to be grateful for each evening.

If 10 is too many, even ONE is more than you were listing yesterday (unless you already have a gratitude practice).

You don’t even have to write things down. Simply give yourself a few moments before you go to sleep (this can support better sleep, too, if you struggle to fall asleep or wake up in the night).

  1. Lie in a comfortable position and feel the support of the mattress and nourishing earth itself
  2. Thank your toes
  3. Thank your feet
  4. Thank your ankles
  5. Thank your calves
  6. Thank your shins
  7. Thank your knees
  8. Thank your thighs
  9. Thank your pelvis and reproductive organs
  10. Thank your stomach
  11. Thank your kidneys
  12. Thank your liver
  13. Thank your heart
  14. Thank your lungs
  15. Thank your other internal organs
  16. Thank your back
  17. Thank your shoulders
  18. Thank your arms
  19. Thank your wrists
  20. Thank your hands
  21. Thank your fingers
  22. Thank your whole body
  23. Thank your throat
  24. Thank your head
  25. Thank your brain
  26. Thank your ears
  27. Thank your eyes
  28. Thank your nose
  29. Thank your mouth
  30. Thank your teeth
  31. Send extra gratitude to areas you struggle with
  32. Be open to any insights around how you might SHOW your body some gratitude and love tomorrow and from now on
  33. Sleep well!

 You don’t need to follow these full instructions to simply thank a few body parts before you doze off into a smiley slumber.

Create more compassion

Choose your favourite Metta or Ho’oponopono practice and PRACTICE.

Again, you don’t need a formal practice to simply place your hands on your heart centre (in your imagination if that’s easier for the situation) and send whoever you’re dealing with or thinking about (yourself included) some love. Some wishes for wellness and ease. Courage and other qualities to smoothe their path. Imagine them (and yourself) healthy and whole.

And you might want to adapt the Thank you meditation above to an empathy enhancing, ‘I love you’ practice where, with each body part, you send it love and well wishes.

The power of pride

Enjoy your successes. Don’t dismiss complements on your hard work with ‘it was nothing.’ I’m not suggesting you go over the top but ground yourself in the knowledge that you worked hard at ____ and deserved your success.

List at least three things that you’re proud of yourself for at the end of the day. They might be big things.

They might be smaller.

Some days, getting dressed may have taken more energy than sending off a big pitch or book proposal another day. Honour the efforts you make every day.

You might also want to adapt the Thank You sleep meditation above to a I’m proud of you meditation. Appreciate your toes, maybe thinking of something you were brave enough to dip your toe in around.

Acknowledge each body part and pay special attention to the areas you’ve worked hardest on either in recovery of illness or injury or through fitness training.

Do you find it easy to feel gratitude, compassion and pride?

Which practice (start with one and build up) will you experiment with first?

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With love,

Eve Menezes Cunningham self care coach therapist supervisor