Can You Be Too Grateful?


This is the time of year when almost everyone has gratitude and a Thanksgiving feast on their minds. We know that too much of that yummy food could have negative consequences, but is their really such a thing as too much gratitude?

Research demonstrates that we adapt to the good things in our life. A new car or even winning the lottery doesn’t increase our happiness as long as we think it will. Even a higher income has a limited affect on our sense of well-being. We human beings adapt to happiness as we to to all situations.

The same is true of gratitude. Writing down three good things that have happened to you, what they meant to you, and what you can do to get more of that is called the “Three Good Things” gratitude exercise. It is proven to lead to better health, sleep and relationships, and a more positive experience of life in general. However, research has also shown that people adapt to gratitude exercises as well, and that doing “Three Good Things” once a week is more effective than doing in every day.

So gratitude works to improve well-being and happiness, but it does seem to be true that even when it comes to being grateful, you can get too much of a good thing!

Accentuate The Positive

Research demonstrates that we each pay attention to about 20, 000 things a day, and that the ratio of things that we pay attention to are way in favor of the negative. We are in fact hard wired to pay attention to the negative. In our cave dwelling days you had to be  hyper-vigilant about the saber tooth tiger sniffing around your abode and that attention to the negative was a life saver.
Now that the saber tooth tiger is gone and you are living in a home with wifi, you can relax and use another thing that we all have, selective attention. Selective attention is great, like when you are at a noisy cocktail party and Bill Gates wants to have a one to one chat. You can tune everyone else out. But, there is a hitch with that too. Selective attention combines with our tendency towards negative confirmation bias. It creates tunnel vision and often guides us towards seeing things through a negative lens so that we end up making things worse for ourselves.
Despite this, rest assured that you are not the victim of your attention. You can’t always control what attracts your attention. What you can do is to notice that you are paying attention to the negative and divert your attention to the positive. In this way you give yourself the option to take steps to pay attention to the positive.
What happens when you pay attention to the positive? You are more likely to build rather than burn relationships, deal with stressful life situations better, bounce back from adverse situations and set backs faster, and have a better immune system that resists illness. A study showed that people who were cut and guided towards paying attention to the positive healed faster than those who were not guided towards the positive.

So do some attention training and change your brain chemistry from  one of a cave dweller to a healthy resilient person paying attention to the positive. 

  • Look for the silver lining, it is always there.
  • Choose to see the positive in others, sometimes very challenging, but worth the pay off.
  • Develop a positive go-to image, like your child, the beach or a hole in one. When you are attending to the negative you can redirect your attention to your go-to image.

As you practice attention training it will take less effort and you will reap the benefits of accentuating the positive.  Remember, saber tooth tigers are only in cartoons.  


“Always turn a negative situation into a positive situation.”

Michael Jordan 

Give Back, Get Back, Blah, Blah, Blah


When you hear the same thing over and over again, it can become just noise. The fact that volunteering is good for you was like that for me. When we got Maisy (pictured above) a dog trainer suggested we check out The Good Dog Foundation. We did and became a certified pet therapy team.

What is the truth about giving back? Volunteering is not only good for your karma, research demonstrates that it is good for you health and your career.

The Washington, D.C.-based Corporation for National & Community Service reveals that charitable work literally makes the heart grow stronger. Individuals with coronary artery disease who participate in volunteer activities after suffering a heart attack report a reduction in despair and depression, and that, in turn, rives down mortality and adds years to life. It’s also true that those who volunteer have fewer incidents of heart disease in the first place. These results were achieved by those who volunteered just 2 hours a week.

In addition, you can combine altruism with ambition to give your professional career a boost. Nonprofits have long offered a golden opportunity to network and learn new skills in different areas, something that, in turn, will make you more valuable back in the office. The economic slump blew open that secret, though; according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, social enterprise organizations have been swamped with business-savvy professionals looking to burnish their resumes.

And some smart companies are also partnering with a variety of community service organizations. By helping valued employees fulfill their dreams and accelerate their careers, employers benefit from the  enthusiasm, renewed engagement and loyalty  It’s a win, win, win!

The Maisy and Ettie Shapiro team visit staff, patients, and their visitors in a hospital once a week. I have not had my annual physical yet, so I do not know how my heart is doing, and so far no job offers have resulted, but the amount of joy and fun I am having during our pet therapy visits far exceed my expectations. Maisy clearly enjoys the attention and the extra treats. When our visit is over, people often thank us. I always reply that the pleasure is mine, and I couldn’t mean it more. It would be difficult to determine who is getting the most our of our visits!

You Gotta Be You-Part III Business Relationships

Self-assertiveness in the workplace benefits both the employer and the employee. I worked for someone who asked me during my interview if I would be honest with him in the event that I disagreed with him. He wanted self-assertive employees; he didn’t want to miss out on valuable feedback and creative initiative. He nurtured an organizational culture that supported self-esteem and the practice of self-assertiveness. Elements of that culture included that it was ok to make a mistake as it was an opportunity to learn, it was safe to disagree with the boss, autonomy was encouraged, and creative problem solving was rewarded. At this point in time, this organization has survived major economic challenges and their culture is one of the factors that enable it to survive.

Here’s some typical answers, gathered by Nathaniel Branden, given to the question, what would you do if you were more self-assertive:

-I’d be more candid.

-I would not drag my feet about declaring bad news.

-If I did not understand, I’d ask questions rather than pretend I knew.

-When I knew something impossible was being asked of me, I’d say so on the spot.

-I’d be more honest about my feelings.

-If someone was not doing the job that was needed, I’d be faster to react and insist on better performance.

-I’d be clear about my expectations and lay them right out there.

-When I knew I had done a good job, I’d make sure my bosses knew about it.

-I wouldn’t be wishy washy about presenting my ideas, I’d stand up for them.

What would you do if you were more self-assertive? What would change for you if you were just 5% more self-assertive?


You Gotta Be You-Part II Personal Relationships

An essential element of lasting intimate relationships is being you, knowing and being known. The temptation to conceal our true selves is often strongest in our relationships with those that we care about the most. We are afraid that revealing parts of ourselves that our partner will not like will end the relationship. In fact, even your mom doesn’t like every single thing about you, but she probably still loves you! For a relationship to survive over the long run, you have to be your authentic self, warts and all. It is also a big hit to your self-esteem to only have the “acceptable” parts of yourself known. Feeling good about yourself requires that your life belongs to you and that you are not basing your behavior on the expectations of others.

You Gotta Be You-Part I

“I gotta be me. I gotta be me. What else could I be if not what I am?”
Steve and Eydie, Tony, Frank, Sammy, Cast of Glee, Alvin and the Chipmunks

The practice of self-assertiveness, of being you, is one of Nathaniel Branden’s six pillars of self-esteem. It is the willingness to stand up for yourself, to be who you are, and to treat yourself with respect. It is not behaving as a tyrant and trampling over other people’s rights or ideas. It is behaving as your authentic self, appropriate to context. Being you is not the same with your family as it is at the workplace, not the same with a young child as it is with an adult.

Being self-assertive is a choice you make, and it can be based on your situation. I attended a party during which the host gave a fortunately short piano concert, accompanying his spouse’s singing. I thought it was pretty awful, but sat through it politely and gratefully applauding at the end. Ever been to a kid’s piano recital? Really, it can be hard to sit through the whole thing, but how do you behave?


Maisy The Optimistic Dog

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”              — Thomas Edison

My dog Maisy is a role model for us all as her optimism is unwavering, even in tough times. She consistently believes with all her heart that she will be taken out for walks and that good food will appear in her bowl, she will get treats and belly rubs, persists and maintains her belief even after repeated failure, takes action to improve her situation, and is ever hopeful. She is successful, happy and healthy.

She is not consumed with false optimism. If she is left at home, she does not deny that harsh reality. She simply accepts it and has faith that with persistent work at being a good dog she will prevail. Her optimism includes hard work and passion (yes, she has great passion about walks and food). Even though Thomas Edison was not a dog, Maisy is a big fan. Edison had 1800 failed experiments before inventing the light bulb. Maisy has been left home at least that many times, and still celebrates each outing with pure joy.

If you would like to improve your health, happiness and level of success by becoming an optimist, you can, even if you have the disadvantage of being a human. Thomas Edison did.

How To Be a Realistic Optimist

There are three elements essential to being an optimist; action, imagination, and rational thinking. These elements work together and feed off of each other. So if we take action and work hard, we create success, which motivates us to work hard. And if we can imagine or visualize our success our minds will help us create an external reality to match our internal reality.

Rational thought is a skill that you can hone. You may believe that rational thinkers cannot possibly be optimistic in today’s world, but that is not the case. In fact, much pessimism reflects distorted thinking. Some examples of distorted thinking are to believe that the way things are now are the way they will always be or that we are in an all or nothing situation. We do not see the whole picture, and dismiss the positive aspects of a situation.

How can you have realistic optimism? Along with action and imagination, know that reality is created by what we focus on, the questions that we ask. So, ask yourself: am I magnifying, minimizing, ignoring part of the picture?

Successful, happy people and dogs perceive the world as optimists. They see the negative as temporary and as opportunities to learn, and the positive as a catalyst to enhance and celebrate.

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“Ettie is an excellent and inspiring coach! I was so pleased to have such positive outcomes as a result of our meetings. Ettie has a superb ability to listen and offer clear guidance. I highly recommend Ettie to anyone looking for some inspiration and clear techniques to create their own success!”

— Ruah Bhay,
owner Ruah Yoga


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