Gratitude:Your Master Key to Holistic Health and Happiness
The Science of Gratitude
Gratitude can be defined as, “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Research has shown that when we feel gratitude, the parts of our brain that are activated include the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) which are involved in the feelings of reward, morality, altruism and interpersonal bonding. Moreover, it is found that when gratitude is expressed, the brain releases a surge of feel good hormones such as dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. These chemicals arouse the feelings of intimacy, love and happiness.
Deliberately focusing your attention on what we feel grateful for, leads us to a positive frame of mind. Dr. Rick Hanson, the famous American psychologist and New York Times’ bestselling author has done a series of researches in this area and found that holding a positive experience for, 20 seconds is long enough to create positive structural changes in the brain. Practice of gratitude rewires our brain so that we become more likely to focus on positive things in the world. So focusing our attention on what we are grateful for is a universally rewarding way to feel happier. It tends to flush out negative feelings of anger, discontent, hatred, and jealousy. As the famous positive psychology researcher and author, Sonja Lyubomirsky reveals, ‘Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, hostility, worry and irritation.
The Attitude of Gratitude
Jinson, one of my close friends recently met with an accident, while he was travelling in a bus. The bus went off road and fell down to a small river nearby. Two of the passengers died on the spot and several others injured and hospitalized. Jinson had serious injuries; both of his legs were broken. When I visited him in the hospital his both legs were in plaster and he was totally bedridden. When he saw me, he waved his hand and welcomed me with a warm smile.
“What happened?”, I asked him
“Oh! Nothing to say. Thank God for saving my life”.
He said with a sigh of relief. I saw a drop of tear in the corner of his eye. He seemed to be really happy to say that. Even though he had serious injuries and was immobilized, there was no sign of worry or disappointment in his face. He was glad to express his gratitude to God for saving his life.
The wise words of Steve Maraboli, the best selling American author and well known speaker, then got stuck in my mind; ‘If you want to find happiness, find gratitude’.
Holistic Powers of Gratitude
Now, modern scientific researchers have proved that your attitude of gratitude is an important factor in determining your level of happiness and satisfaction in your life. Gratitude can contribute a large variety of benefits to individuals physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.
Dr. Robert Emmons and his colleagues of the University of California have conducted long research on gratitude. Their research findings are summarized in his famous book; Thanks: How New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. Emmons, in collaboration with the well known psychologist at the university of Miami, had made several stunning and interesting discoveries about the science of gratitude. They found that by the systematic cultivation of the attitude of gratitude, one can experience a variety of measurable benefits; physically, mentally and inter-personally. Gratitude is the acknowledgement of goodness in one’s life and recognizing the sources, of this goodness. Emmons convincingly concludes: ‘When things go well, gratitude enables us to savor things going well. When things go poorly, gratitude enables us to get over those situations and to realize they are temporary’. As the renowned American monk and popular author, David Steindl Rast reminds us: ‘The root of joy is gratefulness’.
Enriching interpersonal relationships through Gratitude
Research by Italian – American behavioral scientist Francesca Gino and American psychologist Adam Grant showed that even a simple ‘thank you’ can do wonder. If you are in a supervisory position expressing your ‘thanks’ for a work well done can make your employees happier and more confident. Being thankful has ripple effect on employees, causing increased trust and enhanced willingness for helping each other
Researchers have found that people who receive messages of thanks or acts of kindness experience positive emotions. According to Jo-Ann Tseng, professor of psychology at Baylor University, Texas you are more likely to feel grateful, if you receive help that’s unexpected. When someone is thanked, his chance of being helpful again is more than doubled since he enjoys the feeling of social acceptance and value.
A recent study found that, after receiving gratitude, participants noticed that their partners were more responsive to their needs and more satisfied with their relationships. This had a long term effect, even up to nine months. So, your interpersonal relations can be enriched by the habit of expressing your gratitude.
The famous poet and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau once said; ‘I am thankful for what I am and have. My thanks giving is perpetual’. The attitude of gratitude is to be cultivated and nurtured by regular practice. Then only gratitude will become part of your personality.
The poplar American author, Louise Hay once confessed; ‘My day begins and ends with gratitude’. Many great men are fully aware of the amazing benefits of this virtue and have become regular practitioners of gratitude.
Positive psychologists advise us to practice gratitude on a regular basis for experiencing and spreading happiness and suggest the following methods.
- When you wake up in the morning every day make it a practice to express your gratitude to God for blessing you with a new wonderful day. Say to yourself what you are grateful for.
- Start writing a gratitude journal. Every night you can write in the journal the things that you are grateful for, you are proud of and happy about. Write the names of persons who helped you this day and express your gratitude in the journal. If you are unable to write journal, you may set aside some time to reflect in your mind on the good things that happened that day.
- Express your gratitude directly or send ‘thank you’ notes to those who helped you or motivated you.
- Don’t hesitate to compliment your friends or family when they look good or achieve something.
- Refrain from gossiping or talking negatively about others.
- Identify at least one positive thing you earn or learn when you are facing difficulties or failures and feel gratitude for that benefit.
- Meditate on things you are grateful for in your life
- Make it a habit to watch and appreciate the beauties and wonders of nature around you.
- Cultivate a habit of mindfulness about your perpetual gratitude and its benefits.
Let us not forget the words of the ancient Roman philosopher, Cicero; ‘Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others’.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. JOHN MUZHUTHETTU is a Human Resource Consultant, National Trainer, and Counselor. Formerly he was the Deputy Chief Engineer, Kerala State Electricity Board and is still working as an external faculty of HRD Programmes of KSEB. He is also a faculty of Department of Management Studies, Mar Augusthinose College, Ramapuram, under M.G.University, Kerala. He is the PG course co-ordinator of MHRM.
He is a columnist in several Magazines, like ‘Business Deepika’, ‘Creative Business’, ‘Donbosco’ etc. His articles have been published in many magazines and journals. His several speeches have been aired by All India Radio. His interviews on various subjects have been telecasted by Power Vision TV. He is the author of five best-selling books:
‘Stress-Manassasthra- Aathmeeya Pariharangel’. (Current Books, Thrissur) 4th Edition
Vijayiyude Vyakthithwam (Current Books, Thrissur)
Jeevitham Santhushtamakan, Nithya Yauvanam Nedan.(CSS, Thiruvalla)2ndEdition
Emotional Intelligence-Jeevithavijayathinu (CSS, Thiruvalla)
Vijayarahsyangal (Current Books, Thrissur)
As a trainer, he has conducted more than a thousand seminars and workshops for teachers, parents, students, executives and others, on several subjects like Stress Management, Time Management, Personality Development, Emotional Intelligence and Spiritual intelligence for Excellence, Communicative Skills, Assertiveness, Motivation, Study Skills, Effective Parenting, Counselling Skills etc. He is an external training faculty of Power Engineers Training and Research Centre of KSEB. He is an external faculty of IMG Cochin. He is also the Secretary of Upasana Cultural Centre, Thodupuzha.
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