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Make a calendar of gratitude: Power to change your mood based on memories

By Joseph Cramer, MD

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 18 2012 3:23 p.m. MDT

My niece, Anita Wells, has created an automatic electronic scripture delivery system. For every day of the year, she has picked out verses that coincide with the date. Sept. 1 was Psalms 9:1, “I WILL praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works.” A beautiful photo that she created accompanied these words.

On Sept. 2 she sent the reference to Psalms 9:2, “I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High.”

I coincidentally read the two quotes only after a personal exercise that mirrored her emails.

Praising starts with our memory. Unfortunately, our memory is not perfect. Time and again, eyewitness testimonies have been drawn into question because we know our memories are a reconstruction that can be influenced.

It's not like our brains have a spot for our sophomore year in high school. The brain actually pulls from several areas to rebuild the past. Therefore, it's possible to make something different depending upon what part of the brain is activated.

We retrieve our history according to moods. When we think back on events the same feelings we had at that time will come with it. That means we can change our moods based on how our memory is processed.

To come to our consciousness, memories must pass through our current state of mind. If we are down, then our memories will often return over and over to a negative incident in our lives. The memory we create reconfirms we are dumb, clumsy and ugly.

To study this, a group of scientist as reported in the book “The Paradox of Time," told subjects to generate a daily list of gratitude. The length didn’t matter. It was important to do it every day. After two weeks, they reviewed the memories of the people. Their memories had changed. They were more positive, encouraging and supportive.

With that understanding and with a desire to be more aware of my emotional choices, I spent my morning voicing out loud my list of gratitude.

I invite all to do the same. For those unaccustomed to pray it is an opportunity to change not only the past, but make the present more meaningful.

Everyone will be different. For some, sadly their list may be very short and perhaps even nearly impossible to start. Others will pick out the usual suspects and quit: family, friends, food and fun.

Doing it out loud in a quiet place amplifies the gratitude. It is interesting to follow the path of our contemplations. What comes first? How do we group things?

The exercise of naming what we are grateful for is stating what in our lives gets first, second and third billing. It is like first-come, first-serve.

I noticed I went through categories that then would trigger another line of thought. The Earth made me picture waterfalls, great snow-capped mountains or breathtaking vistas. We all have our own experiences to name.

Looking beyond prompted thoughts about space and the magnificence of the universe as pictured by the Hubble Space Telescope, or the ingenuity of the engineers who place roving probes on Mars or circling satellites of Saturn or Mercury.

The sea reconstructed the Oregon coast and a recurring dream of walking with my brother on the sand. The sky made me happy for clear winters with no inversions.

I would not expect your list, like mine, would include losing a job. It means you are more normal than I am. But there really are no limits. However, I have to admit there were times when in spite of outward appearances my list was pretty short. The more time we take to think, the longer the list becomes.

The timing of my niece’s selections and their message of gladness and praise is just one more reason to be grateful.

Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for 30 years, and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at jgcramermd@yahoo.com.

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