"The delight is incomplete until it is expressed" C.S. Lewis
Don’t you wish people would be more grateful? Don’t you just hate it when they expect everything, but fail to notice who’s behind the scenes making it all happen (especially when that person is you)? Don’t you wish someone would just say thank you? There’s a lot of research out there about gratitude, after all, and its many benefits. But for all it’s health benefits, it’s not “good for you” when someone else is grateful: it’s good for you when you are grateful, yet another example of “better to given than to receive”. And there’s some research to back it up.
Because gratitude as a practice has been encouraged by every religion and philosophy, an idea has blossomed over the centuries: that positive emotions such as gratitude are good for your health. This anecdotal wisdom has been put to the test in modern times, and research is showing the benefits to our health and social relationships when gratitude is used as a practice in everyday life. On one level, the idea of researching something that I already know intuitively vexes me rather (“The results are in and it turns out SLEEP IS GOOD FOR YOU!!”); on another level, it’s fascinating to see what parts of the brain light up on an MRI when you are in a state of grateful contemplation. What are the implications not only for our health and well-being, but also for the larger context of social cohesion? I may be getting ahead of myself, but this article asks the same question. What do you think?
Glen Fox is a neuroscientist and researcher who has tested some of these theories and noticed activity in the medial pre-frontal cortex during times of self-reported gratitute. The areas that light up most strongly are the ones associated with empathy, understanding other people’s perspectives, sense of relief, and also the areas that support stress relief and are responsible for emotional regulation. These positive emotional states are shown to reduce stress response and initiate a sense of wellbeing.
The next question is how do we reap the many benefits of this amazing intervention? Ideally you would meditate on the things you are grateful for and thus enter into a deep sense of well-being and gratitude every day. If you are not a seasoned meditator, and sitting quietly with your breath sounds like a daunting task, start out with a gratitude journal. Before bed every night, focus into a sense of contemplative quiet and write down one item for which you are grateful. Try not to make this a shopping list; go into that feeling and sit with it in a deep way for 5 minutes. If you can make this a daily practice, you will begin to see your family, your work, your relationships, and the world in a different way.
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