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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Retirement Redesigned

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Aging Gratefully

An act of gratitude sets you up for the day

Those that practice it swear by it

A note from Johann

Performing a daily act of gratitude reminds you of how blessed you are and how good your life is. A journaling habit directed at what makes you grateful is like a daily tonic for the soul. Some people practice their mindfulness training to be focussed on being grateful. For me, it is my morning prayer to say thank you for my good health and for the wellbeing of myself and my family.

The famous philosopher Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” Does a feeling of gratitude influence our health? And can we train ourselves to develop it? These questions and more have become a popular focus in social sciences and in the wellness sector. In recent years, there has been much research and exploration of the subject, and you can even study the science of gratitude at renowned institutions like The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

Practicing gratitude regularly has a powerful impact right down to the level of your neurons. The more you look for things to be grateful for, the more your brain is wired to for positive input. Answering the above questions, we can confirm that gratitude can be developed as a behavior. Starting small, anyone who wants to become more grateful can start the day with a short written list of things in their life to be grateful for. It is also of benefit to say words of gratitude when speaking to people and not just feeling them.

In this past week, America celebrated their Thanksgiving holiday. Although rooted in a historic commemoration, you find families and friends gathering to share what they are grateful for, and this practice has a binding effect on people. Because of its benefits and impact on peaceful sentiment, wouldn’t it be great if all nations could start celebrating a Thanksgiving day?


What are some of the many proven benefits of gratitude, why these are so valuable in later life, and is practicing gratitude is a skill that we can improve?

Our top 3 article picks this week:

The Neuroscience Behind Gratitude: How Does Cultivating Appreciation Affect Your Brain?

An image depicting Neurons in our body

Our take:
Did you know that practicing gratitude can lead to greater neuron density? Isn’t that wild? The idea that an attitude can affect our brain in the most fundamental way is simply astounding. No wonder gratitude is recommended as one of the most useful practices. To understand more about the neurology of appreciation we recommend reading this article from

Article excerpt:
What Is Gratitude?
Gratitude is an awareness of the good things that happen in your life. Gratitude is both a fleeting emotion and a stable trait—you can be a grateful person or experience a thankful moment. And gratitude can be cultivated.

The Science of Gratitude
The more you practice gratitude, the more you strengthen the brain’s neural circuits for gratitude, making it easier to focus on feelings of gratitude. When you start to focus on the things you already have in your life that are good, your brain becomes better at discovering similar things.

  1. Increased Dopamine
    Research has found that when we express gratitude, the brain releases a surge of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in many vital functions, including pleasure, reward, motivation, attention, and bodily movements. This surge of dopamine gives you a natural high, creating good feelings that motivate you to repeat specific behaviors, including expressing gratitude even more.
  2. Increased Serotonin Production
    In addition to increasing dopamine, gratitude has also been associated with increased serotonin production. Serotonin is often called the happiness chemical because it contributes to feelings of well-being, stabilizes our mood, and helps us feel more relaxed.
  3. Greater Activity in the Medial Prefrontal Cortex
    The medial prefrontal cortex is an area of the human brain linked to learning and making decisions. (S)cans showed that there was a surge of activity in the medial prefrontal cortex area of the brain when subjects expressed gratitude that was different from the brain activity seen when the subjects were feeling grateful but didn’t express it. The benefit to the prefrontal cortex doesn’t come from just being grateful, but from expressing gratitude.
  4. Activation of the Brain’s “Altruism” and Reward System Regions
    A recent study found that practicing gratitude activates a part of the human brain—the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC)—associated with what the researchers describe as neural pure altruism, which basically means that your brain craves the experience of giving.

The researchers concluded that “gratitude biases the brain’s reward system toward rewards for others versus oneself.” By giving, you become more likely to want to connect with others by giving again in the future. Gratitude truly seems to be for the greater good.
Click here to read the full article on

Let’s Focus on What We Don’t Need Instead of What We Don’t Have

A minimalistic image to show that focusing on what we don’t need is better than focusing on what we don’t have.

Our take:
This No Side Bar blog post from Becoming Minimalist shares thoughts on scarcity and how to shift our mindset to think of what we can do without rather than focusing on what we think we need more of.

Article excerpt:
So many of us can’t stop worrying about not getting enough sleep or not getting enough done in the day and the list goes on.

This had me thinking. We really don’t need more. We shouldn’t feel these feelings of scarcity even though we do. In fact, I’d argue that it would help the majority of us if we felt less burdened by what we can’t seem to get enough of and instead shifted our thinking to focus on what we can do without.

Have you ever decluttered a storage closet? It’s like taking an eraser to the marks of chaos. How cool would it be to simplify our homes and focus solely on streamlining them? Make them more peaceful. Make them more aligned with a feeling of calm instead of worrying about buying or accumulating whatever we thought we needed before. For me, that’s living. If nothing else, have a little internal conversation with yourself. You’ll recognize your real needs if you know that you’re going to use those additional items and you really won’t and your impulse purchase is really just a whim to satisfy a fleeting craving.
Click here to read the full article post on No Side Bar.

Is Resentment Stopping You from Feeling Grateful?

Resentment and gratitude are opposites – so dealing with feelings of resentment can help gratitude come more easily.

A mature elderly man facing away from the camera to symbolize resentment feelings.

Our take:
This is another interesting take on gratitude and what might stand in our way of expressing it. Resentment is known as the “emotion of justice,” as it is usually accompanied by the sense that we need to hold on to our resentment in order to take a moral stance on unacceptable behavior. To give up our resentment can often feel like we are letting the other person off the hook or condoning their behavior.

Article excerpt:
Resentment is known as the “emotion of justice,” as it is usually accompanied by the sense that we need to hold on to our resentment in order to take a moral stance on unacceptable behavior. To give up our resentment can often feel like we are letting the other person off the hook or condoning their behavior.

Philosopher Robert Roberts’s analysis of the concepts of gratitude and resentment shows that they are mirror opposites of each other, completely opposite states or ways of being. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have both gratitude and resentment as part of who we are. We can’t have functioning relationships without some gratitude, and most of us are rarely totally free of resentment. What it does mean is that if we are wanting to be genuinely grateful to someone, we can’t be resentful toward them at the same time. Firstly, we need to address any resentment we may have toward them.

How resentment detracts from well-being
Research suggests that, adjacent to resentment, unforgiveness and rumination lead to a similar erosion of health. For example, according to neuroscientist Emiliano Ricciardi and his colleagues, people in these states may have trouble sleeping, experience changes in cardiovascular activity and stress-related hormones, and, over time, develop clinical conditions including depression. In other studies, people who cannot forgive tend to experience stress that accelerates the aging process and leads to a variety of diseases. Likewise, rumination has been found to have a negative impact on healthy coping and to be a contributing factor in chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer.

Moving away from resentment
Gratitude has an amazing power to illuminate where it is missing and, in particular, where its opposite—resentment—is residing. We can start to notice this in situations where we want to express gratitude but find it hard to do so authentically because we are actually feeling pain or a reticence of some kind. I often describe this as “murky” because we know something isn’t quite right, but it’s also hard to give it a name or to acknowledge it fully to ourselves, let alone the other person.

In order for resentment to come out of hiding, we need to acknowledge it. We need to find ways of giving our resentment a voice, a shape, a place at the table for discussion, without shame or guilt, without self-judgment or the judgment of others. Only then can we see how much our resentment is robbing us of our gratitude and destroying our relationships and sense of well-being.

Moving toward gratitude
One powerful way to enact this is through warm greetings. My research has shown that greeting with a heart of gratitude—with a heart of recognizing what we have received from someone—can help them to feel a sense of connectedness to us, a sense of belonging. We do not necessarily have to use a “thank you” or appreciation in our greetings. The power lies more with the inner attitude with which we offer the greeting.
Click here to read the full article post on Greater Good Magazine.

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Other highlights for the week:

Most Popular Daily Thought

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has. – Epictetus
The psychology of scarcity suggests that we use up much of our mental bandwidth when we focus on what we lack rather than what we have. We become occupied by these thoughts and often don’t even see the many things we do have. Where we train our attention becomes our reality. And this is why we love talking about gratitude so much. By focusing on what we do have, even the little things, we are filled with a sense of satisfaction that positively affects many areas of our lives from our mental well-being, decision-making, social behaviors, and even physiological health. Have a great day.
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A quote by Epictetus – He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.


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Johann is the founding partner of Reset Retirement where we focus on assisting people with planning for the non-financial aspects of their lives after full-time work. He had a long career in executive search and leadership as the founding partner and chairman of Heidrick & Struggles in South Africa where he was the head of the company’s board practice.