Science accepts the unique power of gratitude for good. A sense of gratitude to the Creator is central to Western religion. Those who feel more grateful for the benefits they experience clearly enjoy a better quality of life.
But, is a sense of gratitude to life justified? With starving children, painful diseases, famines and earthquakes, how can anyone feel thankful for being thrust into this unforgiving world? For many pessimists, gratitude is a mystifying concept. Even if they are individually and uniquely blessed, can the misery of legions of unfortunates be ignored? For those despairing skeptics, gratitude to life sounds absurd.
But, those unhappy few are mistaken. They don't need to struggle to feel grateful to life. They will naturally feel grateful and enjoy the celebrated feeling of abundance, when they abandon a few misconceptions. True, it is hard to break out of old and negative ways of thinking, But, it can be done. An escape from despair begins with an insight into why gratitude is reasonable. Then they need to work on losing their feelings of despair. Freed from emotional turmoil, mindfulness living will reveal the wonder of life, despite all its misery. Then the reason for gratitude will become obvious and its power will change their lives.
Power Of Gratitude – What Is Gratitude?
Gratitude is essentially an emotion, which improves the behavior of people. Cynics allege that gratitude changes behavior in expectation of future favors. That is not true. The prospect of future benefits triggers only fearful flattery. Gratefulness is not crafty and does not fawn.
Gratitude is a positive emotion, filled with goodwill. It acknowledges receiving something valuable, which a person cannot justly claim to deserve. If something is expected in return, the recipient only feels indebted, leading more to an avoidance of the giver. Gratitude arises, when the recipient feels that nothing is expected back. It motivates the recipient to have positive and helpful feelings towards the giver.
The Power Of Gratitude – Social Instincts
Gratitude evolved as a social instinct. Animals, which live together in herds, survive better than loners. Evolution developed specific patterns of social rewards and punishments for the survival of herds. At the highest level, the individual is rewarded with maximal respect and admiration for those heroic actions which benefit the whole herd. For individual interactions, there are persisting and strict codes, which deliver reciprocal rewards.
An action, which benefits the recipient but is costly to the performer, fills the recipient with goodwill, motivating a strong desire to return the favor. Harmful actions invite retribution, discouraging unsocial behavior. Invariably there is a time lag between giving and receiving. The related emotions persist within the neural network for a reasonable period and subside only when favors, or punishments of equal value are delivered to the giver. The emotions of gratitude and revenge implement those social rules, which ultimately resulted in the domination of all life by herds.
The Power Of Gratitude – How Emotions Work
Emotions are neural processes, which control attitudes and behaviors. An emotion can fill you with terror and even freeze your ability to take a single step. Without that emotion in control, walking is deceptively easy. But fear will freeze you into immobility, if you suddenly need to step on a plank a hundred feet above ground. That fear is not your choice. You may not even be aware that it has taken control. You will only know the reason why you are afraid. Fear can also be induced by electrical excitation of certain parts of the temporal lobe.
Negative and positive emotions originate as distinctive patterns of nerve impulses, which also trigger neurochemical events. They have the capacity to micromanage the fluidity of your muscle movements, your thoughts, your facial expressions and the choice and tone of your words. When a positive emotion is experienced, the system releases the neuro-modulator dopamine. Dopamine provides clarity to immediate objectives and makes a person feel more energetic and elated. A person feels more aware and interested in the tasks on hand. Gratitude is a positive emotion, which grants a person a powerful sense of well-being.
The Power Of Gratitude – Gratitude Testifies Your Performance
Gratitude flows from a feeling that life is good. Science discovered that, when you experience the emotion, you will have a sense of well-being. Your health will be better and you will have a more cheerful attitude to life. People, who experience gratitude, sleep better and have more positive thoughts. They face problems well and are more in control of their lives. They cope better with transitions in life. Experiencing gratitude is a true indication of coping well with life.
The Power Of Gratitude – Gratitude Makes You Generous
Gratitude works positively. In fMRI studies, the ventromedial prefrontal regions are activated for rewards such as food, money, or pleasant music. Tricomi of Caltech tested subjects, selectively rewarding groups for winning simple games. Subjects having high scores felt comparatively wealthy. Feeling that they had received more than their fair share made them feel gratitude. Such subjects showed activation of the ventromedial prefrontal regions indicating pleasure, even when another participant with a low score received a reward. Gratitude makes one feel generous towards weaker members of the group. A feeling that one has better than a fair share triggers gratitude, making a person more generous.
The Power Of Gratitude – Varying Levels Of Gratitude
The sense of fairness is subjective. Gratitude can be felt towards many aspects of life. It can be felt about the people who surround you, the things you own, your experience of the present moment, the wonder of life, in comparisons with others and about your relationship to the cosmos. When enjoying identical benefits, people differ in their assessment of value, cost, and benevolent intentions of the giver. They feel differing levels of gratitude after being helped. Some may only feel dissatisfaction and resentment. The more fortunate ones enjoy the feeling of gratitude more frequently and in more areas. Science has discovered that people who feel gratitude more often are better adjusted and happier. A sense of well-being indicates the true power of gratitude to modify attitudes.
The Power Of Gratitude – The Somatic Marker
Gratitude cannot be willed into existence. Gratitude to life can only come from a positive existential position. Gratitude ultimately results from an informed assessment by a person's mind that, in spite of myriad problems, its essential wonder makes life worth living. Such an assessment follows an evaluation of the positives and negatives in one's life. Damasio proposed an evaluation of the “somatic markers” (a store of all reward and punishment-associated experiences) for decision making by the mind.
This website suggests an intuitive decision making process, where the feedback/feed forward circuits in the limbic system evaluate all decision parameters, including emotions, to instantly deliver a final decision. In the end, each individual weighs despair and boredom against wonder and love to measure the quality of his own life. To the despairing, life is a stupid mistake. To the child, it is a world of joy. By stilling negative emotions a person can tilt the balance and enjoy the power of gratitude.
Power Of Gratitude – Essential Steps For Gratitude
In the judgment of the mind, good feelings have to be stronger than the negative emotions to feel gratitude. No living person is free from problems in life. A few are troubled by more than their share and a few others burdened by a negative attitude, which casts a fearsome visage on existence itself. At the same time, there are happy and cheerful people living in abject and degrading conditions. It is not the world, which is to blame for misery, but the emotional responses of humans to their troubles.
The mind control tips in this website offer practical routines, which can quiet negative emotions. When you learn to control your negative emotions, you suddenly realize that nothing in the world can trouble you. You have a better ability to face problems in life, to control your environment and to accept the inevitable. The first step to enjoying a feeling of gratitude and abundance is to know how to control your emotions.
The Power Of Gratitude – Cultivating Gratitude
McCollough and Emmons noted that gratitude encouraged a positive cycle of reciprocal kindness among people since one act of gratitude encourages another. McCullough suggests that people can increase their sense of well-being and create positive social effects just by counting their blessings. Several exercises have been designed to increase one's experience of the emotion. Participants in such exercises showed increases in positive emotions immediately after the exercise.
One exercise is to systematically write down lists of things for which a person feels grateful each day. Another is to write a letter of gratitude or reflect on their thankfulness to someone who has obliged them. Actively experiencing the emotion has been shown to improve the outlook of people. The effect was highest for those who were more prone to feel gratitude. The obvious implication is that gratitude is more an inbuilt quality of people who are already well adjusted. Gratitude is the outcome of a healthy state of mind rather than the cause of one's sense of well being. But, people can improve their sense of well being by frequently expressing gratitude.
The Power Of Gratitude – Pessimism Unfounded
Fear and gratitude cannot coexist. The pessimist feels that if anything can go wrong, it will. He anticipates trouble just around the corner. Yet, his thoughts are managed by one hundred billion neurons, which ceaselessly fire thousands of times a second. Millions of people perform myriad tasks to keep him fed, clothed and sheltered. Thousands of components in an automobile work perfectly to transport him daily to work. Modern life is a miracle of coordination, where nature and technology work together to make life possible. While the news media report murder and mayhem, the world moves at a more sedate pace. If we believe that the world is remarkably well run, we will be more prepared to face the challenges of the few things, which fail to work. We can feel grateful that all the possible things, which can go wrong, do not.
The Power Of Gratitude – Gratitude For Skeptics
The expression of gratitude to the Almighty is important in Western religion. The devout feel grateful that they are showered with blessings, in spite of being unworthy sinners. They feel gratitude for their calm sense of being divinely protected from harm. They accept the misfortunes and the agonies of life as being divinely designed to strengthen them.
But, the skeptics are not so fortunate. They fail to comprehend an incessant need for misfortunes to meet a grand eternal purpose. Neither do they feel protected from random accidents and disasters. But, even the hapless skeptic can also begin to feel gratitude by stilling their troubling emotions. When they begin to accept much of the surrounding misery as an irrevocable part of life, and when they choose to enjoy the positive feelings of wonder, love and compassion, the balance of emotions will shift in favor of gratitude.
The Power Of Gratitude – Gratitude To Life
The skeptic needs to direct his gratitude. Free from turmoil, he calmly accepts whatever is in store in life and lives mindfully, filled with wonder, love and compassion. Life is no longer an insufferable option. Without expecting anything back in return, life has given him the opportunity to live calmly and joyfully. He does not owe anyone a debt for this opportunity. Gratitude is naturally triggered, when you receive an undeserved benefit.
A joyful life is a priceless benefit, which resulted from the unchanging laws of nature, which made life itself possible. Were those underlying maxims, which finally led to life, created, or did they exist forever? According to Einstein, we will never know. According to Hinduism, not even Brahma knows. But, the skeptic can feel grateful that, altogether unearned and utterly gratuitously, life happened. He also knows that his gratitude will not save him from being run over by a bus, because true gratitude is not felt in anticipation of future favors.
This page was last updated on 01-Jan-2014
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