Thoreau wrote, “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”
Some of my clients must surely be weary of my prescription of keeping a daily gratitude journal to improve happiness and inner contentment. They may even hope that it is one of those fads that eventually will give way to something more interesting and less tedious than actually writing down ten specific things one is grateful for each day and one very special moment from the past day. But, I keep encouraging this mental pathmaking because the practice of gratitude is a kind of thinking that is the foundation for happiness, regardless of the situations in our lives. Creating neural circuits in the brain through repetition is akin to making physical, well worn paths. Sometimes new neural circuits must be made to replace habits of thought that do not serve us well. The path of gratitude can become the more familiar path in place of the way of aggravation and discontent.
This happened to me this evening as I sat on wet bleachers at a junior varsity football game. I kept thinking how grateful I was to have brought an umbrella to protect against the driving rain and wind shear and to see a young grandson showing stamina despite it all. The thoughts that dominate the lives of those who keep practicing the gratitude path are hopelessly optimistic and joyful in both good weather and bad.