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Practising gratitude

Aldina Braganza

I love the moments of twilight, the time between darkness and light, when the sky is in its most grandiose splendour. It’s a time when the world sets stage for the next act. I feel special, as if the whole universe has conspired to puts on this drama for us. The hues that surround the early morning sunrise and the late evening sunset is something you just cannot take for granted. It’s enough reason for you to place your hand on your heart and whisper a ‘thank you’.

That’s exactly what the area of positive psychology is emphasising today; ways and means on how to combat negativity and live not just any life but a life of wellbeing and total satisfaction.

Gratitude tops the list on how to increase the quality of your life. Saying ‘thank you’ in any language is potent enough to bring a smile on your face, tears in your eyes and expand your chest with a feeling of goodness.

“Gratitude is the attitude to cultivate,” states social psychologist and author of the book ‘Hardwiring Happiness’, Rick Hanson. Normally the human brain is wired to fixate on experiences that allow survival. Hence, humans learn behaviours that one should avoid more quickly rather than behaviours that are rewarding. The focus of the human brain is more on the negative than the positive. We tend to remember vividly those experiences that cause us pain rather than those that bring us joy and happiness.

However, when you give your brain the opportunity to focus on something positive, you are in fact rewiring the way your brain is going to fixate on an experience. Translated loosely, it means you are giving yourself the opportunity to all that is good around you.

The way you get there is fairly easy. You start by acknowledging all that is good, rather than picking out on all that is not good or bad. You start with any of the many experiences you have had in the day – your mom, dad, spouse or child offering you a cup of tea, your vendor handing over your stuff, your driver opening your door, your domestic help sweeping your floor or someone making way for you to pass. The list is endless, if you are paying attention to your day.

The next step is to focus your brain to acknowledge the experience by saying thank you. Before long you will notice that there are many things that you begin to find that you are grateful for. This is how you will begin remembering more positive incidences than negative. It’s a cyclic process. There is always much to be grateful for.

In the recent years practising gratitude has received much attention from behavioural scientist. Robert Emmons’ study (that included over 1000 participants aged 8 to 80 years) lists benefits that range from physical wellbeing to mental health and overall life satisfaction. Keeping some time every day to focus on the things that make you happy is a sure fire way to make you feel even more satisfied.

Feeling gratitude should be coupled with expressing gratitude. This kind of gesture is not only well received but also reciprocated and leads to cultivating relationships. Before long you will be pleased to see how people respond to your presence. From your house help, driver, vegetable vendor and grocer to your colleagues and maybe even your boss will all be looking forward to your company and feeling happy when they see you. Gratitude enhances empathy. You begin to feel more connected with others around you.

Imagine how this feeling of being wanted translates to your mood. You will feel an immediate upbeat even in your step. There will be an increase in your self-esteem. And because you are feeling good you are seeking things to make you feel good and thus increase opportunities for yourself.

Gratitude is shown to reduce many toxic emotions we might experience when we feel threatened, such as envy, jealousy, frustration and regret. These toxic emotions can be checked and halted by simply acknowledging all the things you are lucky to possess. And when the day has been really bad, I start with any of my senses. Just sight is enough for me to feel alive and grateful.

Culturally, in India we believe that when we say thank you to the people we consider as family, we might be offending their intention. Very well epitomised with the popular filmy dialogue that we hear-‘No sorry, no thank you!’

We believe that we should say thank you only to strangers and not our own people. This feeling of ‘apnapan’, closely translated in English as belongingness, that we share fuzzes the borders of our own identity with that of our family.

So although we are grateful to the actions of those who help us, expressing it might offend the other. And so we think and don’t say ‘thank you’ to some of the most important people in our lives. We often deny them and ourselves the magic that gratitude can do when it is expressed.

(Writer is a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and the HOD of psychology at Carmel College for Women)


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