brain

The Benefits of Feeling Gratitude

 
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We all think of gratitude as benefiting the person on the receiving end. However, is gratitude also good for the person who is grateful? 

Robert Emmons, the world's leading scientific expert on gratitude, has been studying its effects and the results are very convincing. Dr. Emmons has studied more than one thousand people, from ages eight to eighty, and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:

Physical

• Less pain

• Improved sleep

Psychological

• Higher levels of positive emotions

• More focused

• Greater confidence

Social

• Greater empathy

• More forgiving

• Increased connection with others

The social benefits are especially significant here because gratitude is a social emotion. You see, first, gratitude is an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there is good in the world. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore challenges, negative situations, burdens, and hassles. However, when we look at life as a whole, gratitude highlights and emphasizes the positives in our life.

The second part of gratitude is figuring out what is contributing to the goodness in our lives. We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves. Gratitude involves a humble dependence on others. We acknowledge that other people and things give us many gifts that make our lives better. 

What good is gratitude?

So what’s really behind Dr. Emmons’ research results—why might gratitude have these transformative effects on people’s lives?

I think there are several important reasons, but I want to highlight four in particular.

  1. Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present. By focusing on being grateful our brains actually change. Our neurobiology shifts to one that makes us feel better and one that makes us a higher performer in life.

  2. Gratitude blocks negative emotions that can destroy our happiness. A 2008 study by psychologist Alex Wood in the Journal of Research in Personality shows that gratitude can reduce the frequency and duration of episodes of depression. (This makes sense: You cannot feel grateful and have negative emotions at the same time.)

  3. Grateful people are more stress resistant. There’s a number of studies showing that in the face of serious trauma, adversity, and suffering, if people have a grateful attitude, they’ll recover more quickly. So, in fact, a sense of gratitude is the most important when someone is going through challenging times.

  4. Grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth. When you’re grateful, you feel that others are looking out for you—someone else has provided for your well-being, or you realize that you have a network of people in your life that value you and contribute that other to your life. Once you realize that other people have seen the value in you, you can transform the way you see yourself.


We want to feel more gratitude—and we want our students to do the same—because gratitude is so closely associated with happiness that the two are practically indistinguishable from one another. The opposite of gratitude is entitlement, which brings negative feelings like disappointment and frustration. But when we feel grateful, our world fills with positive emotions like love, compassion, enthusiasm, and confidence—and our satisfaction with life soars.

What we’ve learned from the gratitude interventions that don’t work is that one size definitely doesn’t fit all. So how can we help an adolescents become happier through gratitude?

The first thing to remember is that teenagers’ unique developmental task is to be independent: to break away from you, the adult who is asking you to appreciate what they do for you.

So every time teens take your advice—about how to be happier, or by following your instructions for practicing gratitude—they are setting themselves up to remain dependent on you. Which doesn’t feel good. Herein lies the problem.

This doesn’t mean that we should give up on teaching our students to feel and express more gratitude in their lives. Here are some suggestions for practicing gratitude with your students:

  1. Let teens lead. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to practicing gratitude—and a gratitude practice is going to be a lot less effective if it is seen as a chore or an assignment. So tell teens you want them to design a gratitude practice for themselves. And give them options to choose. for your whole family this year. credit, even if they come up with something you suggested weeks ago.

  2. Use gratitude to cultivate the growth mindset in difficult times. What did you learn from that terrible experience? What good came out of it, despite the difficulty?

  3. Be persistent. When teens feel authentic gratitude, it is a positive emotion for them just like for everyone else. When they create a gratitude practice that works for them, feelings of gratitude will become habitual, hopefully built into their daily lives

Below are some of the specific steps I like to recommend for overcoming the challenges to gratitude.

  • Gratitude Journal - Gratitude journals have been shown to be an effective approach to helping children be happier: One study had 221 sixth- and seventh-graders write down five things they were grateful for every day for two weeks. Three weeks later, these students had a better outlook on school and greater life satisfaction compared with kids assigned to list five hassles.

A Gratitude Journal can be just listing just five things for which you’re grateful every week. This practice works, I think, because it consciously, intentionally focuses our attention on developing more grateful thinking and on eliminating ungrateful thoughts. It helps guard against taking things for granted; instead, we see gifts in life as new and exciting. 

  • Grateful Thoughts - Another gratitude exercise is to practice counting your blessings on a regular basis, maybe first thing in the morning, maybe at the end of the day. You can use concrete reminders to practice gratitude, which can be particularly effective in working with children. What are you grateful for today? You don’t have to write them down on paper.

  • Think Outside of the Box - Mother Theresa talked about how grateful she was to the people she was helping (the sick and dying in the slums of Calcutta) because they enabled her to grow and deepen her spirituality. That’s a very different way of thinking about gratitude—gratitude for what we can give as opposed to what we receive.

Neuroscience: Stacking the Deck in Your Favor

 
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Are you looking for competitive advantage?

Of course, you are - we all are. As humans that is what we are genetically programmed and socially conditioned to do. So where do you start? To discover true competitive advantage and sustain it at work and in life - start with the brain.

Over the past decade, the neuroscience of peak performance has been widely researched with state of the art tools leading to multiple discoveries. Scientists have found that all humans are innately designed to do their best. However, optimal performance is dependent on your state of mind. The state of mind most closely correlated with optimal performance is called the “Flow State” or “Flow” for short.

Flow can be thought of as ‘being in the zone.’ It is when your brain is supercharged, your productivity is off the charts with seemingly little effort, and you are experiencing a heightened sense of well-being. Flow is the state of consciousness where you feel most alive, intensely productive and innovative. The good news is that this state of being has a specific neurobiological footprint in the brain that can be measured and even more importantly, this footprint can be reproduced on demand with certain specific interventions.

I have spent over a decade building a formula for optimizing human performance based on neurobiology. This formula consists of stacking proven, individual neuroscience interventions on top of one other to move the brain closer to a Flow State – a process we have termed as “BioStacking.”

BioStackingSM leverages the latest knowledge in neuroscience research to improve focus, memory, learning, complex decision-making, creativity, and emotional regulation resulting in dramatic improvements in your personal and professional performance. The key neuroscience interventions included in BioStacking are:

  1. Focused Attention – meditation to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, relax, and balance.

  2. Mindfulness – open monitoring to be in the present, live in the now.

  3. Future Visions – visualization to identify your core dreams, associated purpose, and remove limitations.

  4. Metacognition – learning to better think, memorize and analyze.

  5. Recovery – downtime is productive time and recovery from stress.

When in Flow you not only have a greater capacity for learning, you also have greater interconnectivity and collaboration with others, and overall reduced stress. All the things that are important to your professional performance and personal life. As corporations continue to invest in the well-being and development of their employees – the neuroscience interventions of BioStacking become the key to satisfying an ever evolving workforce. This new workforce expects their employers to provide a culture focused on a growth mindset, a holistic set of wellness offerings, and tools to achieve greater performance in the workplace.

BioStacking supports the growing change in focus in organizations from employee health to wellness to performance. An organization’s bottom line depends on it and so does your employees’ engagement and fulfillment. I am a physician, researcher, and speaker who wants to ignite your human potential through the mastery of neurobiology. Whether you are a VP of Sales, HR Executive, or Meeting Professional, I have strategies that will maximize team engagement, learning, and purpose at your company meetings. I also help teachers and administrations create meaningful experiences for the classroom with neuroscience techniques that can give young people the tools they need to better cope with the stress in their daily lives.

Stack the deck in your favor through BioStacking and discover true competitive advantage and fulfillment that can be sustained by starting with your brain. Through these techniques, you begin to balance your own neurotransmitters and give yourself what you need to perform at your highest level. Visit me at JonathanSpero.com to learn more and discover how neuroscience tools can help leverage your power to ignite your human potential.