Thankfulness and Gratitude on Thanksgiving Day: Unsticking the Phonograph Needle



As a psychologist I think a lot about my own inner emotional life, and I try to use images and metaphors to help my clients do the same.  Some people have said, Carl, your mind is like a steel trap"!  Actually, I think of it more like a phonograph!  Remember the vinyl 33 rpm record albums when we were kids?  Remember how annoyingly the needle would sometimes get stuck and play the the same lyrics over and over?  Sometimes a few minutes might go by before your realized it!  Then you'd get up and tap the needle to get it back in the groove.

It often seems that our minds are like that phonograph. We get caught on a track thinking about something, worrying about something, over and over ... We dwell on it, and it continues until something else comes along to tap the needle.  Often we are then dwelling on the next topic!  Our inner lives too often seem like an endless progression of these.  We worry about one thing until the next worry comes along!

Psychologists have shown that our thought patterns in daily life are influenced by a number of "cognitive biases" that I believe make this 'stuck needle' feeling so common.  For example, we all are aware of the recency bias in memory:  If we have a list of things we've just read, the last one often is the easiest to remember.  Then there's what we might call the myopia bias, an emotional nearsightedness, where we focus on the short-term problem or seek the immediate reward, not paying enough attention to the longer term (and very often bigger and more important) aspects of our lives.  Then there's the well known and researched Zeigarnik effect, which captures how it's the nature of our memory to latch onto things that we haven't finished, such as the incomplete tasks and the unsolved problems in our daily lives.  These are just a few of the ways that human nature plays into our minds, and our daily lives, feeling like a stuck phonograph needle.  

I believe that thoughts of thankfulness and gratitude are an important way that we can tap the phonograph needle and get it back in the groove, back to the harmony and melodies that really define our lives.  Much recent psychological research has shown that thankfulness and gratitude correlate with lots of good things in life:  from reduced stress, illness, and pain, to increased happiness, life satisfaction, productivity, even longevity. Perhaps thankfulness and gratitude exert their positive effects by dislodging the stuck needle.  Some people are more adept at this than others.  They're quicker to recognize that the same lyrics are repeating again and again and they nudge the needle by thinking about the many positives in their lives.   Thanksgiving Day is a time that we all can nudge the needle together.  We can get beyond the recency bias, the myopia bias, the Zygarnik effect, and all the daily worries and smaller goals, and think about what's really important: the bigger things, in the longer term of our lives, for which we know we are grateful but just don't think about often enough. 



                  [Can you remember the feelings of wonder, the innocence of childhood?]