Saturday May 07, 2016

Meet a Canadian athlete who says gratitude can heal body and mind

"I started to focus very hard on being grateful and positive no matter how negative the situation that I was in."

"I started to focus very hard on being grateful and positive no matter how negative the situation that I was in." (YouTube / Taylor Jackson)

Listen 6:15

In 2009, Jim and Jennifer Moss were enjoying life in California.

With a toddler at home and a baby on the way, the Ontario couple had moved south so Jim could play professional lacrosse. A former member of the Canadian national team, he was in peak physical condition. 

But one day, Moss got up off the couch and collapsed. He knew something was wrong.

"Next thing you know we're in the hospital and there's a lineup of doctors from Stanford trying to figure out exactly what I had," recalled Moss.

After running some tests, it was determined that he had Guillain-Barre syndrome

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Jim Moss, on right, was an elite member of the Canadian national lacrosse team. (CP / Geoff Robbins)

The syndrome left him temporarily paralysed. The disease can be fatal, and even those who recover are often left with lingering symptoms. 

Jennifer was also concerned about Jim's mental health. Depressed, Jim began to think deeply about his the way his mind seemed to be working. He noticed that if his mood was up, and if he was feeling grateful, he was able to accomplish much more than when he was having a bad day.

So he started to explore whether gratitude could actually be having an impact on his brain. 

"It turns out there is a really large body of research that ties into the neuroscience of how our brain works and actually primes us to be in a more positive mood," Moss explained.

"By doing it with great frequency, you can actually change the way your brain operates. As your brain starts to change, that reinforces the change of future behaviors."

The idea that the brain can change and reorganize itself over time is called neuroplasticity

"So the day-to-day, or moment-to-moment record keeping of what you're grateful for is a way that you can hack into the neuroscience of your own brain and change your behaviours and your habits to be much more positive," said Moss.

While he was in the hospital, Moss was told that he wouldn't walk again for at least a year. 

"I started to focus very hard on being grateful and positive no matter how negative the situation that I was in," he recalled. "The long and the short of it was that I walked out of the hospital six weeks later."

Today, Jim and Jennifer Moss are back in Ontario where they've turned their lessons on gratitude into a thriving business.