Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Gratitude Tricks of the Week
JAN BROGAN - So, we all know that this is the week to be grateful. The raison d'être of Turkey Day. The time to stop thinking about how much we need and start thinking about how much we have.
But it gets a little bit boring to think of gratitude the way our parents, teachers, and parish priests foisted it upon us. It's much more interesting to think about it as a mental trick we must play on ourselves.
For many reasons, “taking in the good” is counter-intuitive to how our brains have evolved for the survival of our species; say the experts. Our brains have a bias like Velcro for the negative, Teflon for the positive.
That's why you have to be creative. You must come up with a way to push positive thinking upon yourself. And not just because you are trying to win some Jack Handy award, but because it's actually good for your brain.
Neuroscientists say that when we intentionally take in the good we are building resources in our neural circuitry to act as a buffer against stress, negativity, trauma, and to promote our brain’s flexibility and resilience.
Need more convincing?
This from the Huffington Post:
"As Drs. Blaire and Rita Justice reported for the University of Texas Health Science Center, "a growing body of research shows that gratitude is truly amazing in its physical and psychosocial benefits."
In one study on gratitude, conducted by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., at the University of California at Davis and his colleague Mike McCullough at the University of Miami, randomly assigned participants were given one of three tasks. Each week, participants kept a short journal. One group briefly described five things they were grateful for that had occurred in the past week, another five recorded daily hassles from the previous week that displeased them, and the neutral group was asked to list five events or circumstances that affected them, but they were not told whether to focus on the positive or on the negative. Ten weeks later, participants in the gratitude group felt better about their lives as a whole and were a full 25 percent happier than the hassled group. They reported fewer health complaints, and exercised an average of 1.5 hours more.
In a later study by Emmons, people were asked to write every day about things for which they were grateful. Not surprisingly, this daily practice led to greater increases in gratitude than did the weekly journaling in the first study. But the results showed another benefit: Participants in the gratitude group also reported offering others more emotional support or help with a personal problem, indicating that the gratitude exercise increased their goodwill towards others, or more tehnically, their "pro-social" motivation.
Several studies have shown depression to be inversely correlated to gratitude. It seems that the more grateful a person is, the less depressed they are. Philip Watkins, a clinical psychologist at Eastern Washington University, found that clinically depressed individuals showed significantly lower gratitude (nearly 50 percent less) than non-depressed controls."
JAN: Goodness is good for you!! And not just gratitude. In a story about meditation I wrote for the Boston Globe, which will be in the September 26, I talk to a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital who has a new study that shows when people meditate on compassion, they not only reduce their incidence of depression, they actually change the way part of the brain activates.
So I am not going to ask you to talk about what you are grateful for. That just gets a little too smarmy. Instead I'm going to ask you what mental tricks you pull off to make yourself feel grateful.
For example, here's my gratitude trick of the week:. I am not focusing on the fact that my daughter is going to HOUSTON for Thanksgiving with her boyfriend instead of coming home, (Here you must picture me as Mae, Albert's overbearing mother in Bye Bye Birdie singing "A Mother Doesn't Matter Anymore") Instead, I'm focusing on just how grateful I am my son is arriving a whole day early and I'll get to see him later tonight!
Now it's your turn.