Gratitude is an essential practice in our daily life to keep us grounded, humble, and focused on life. We’re all aware of its numerous health benefits from reducing stress, anxiety, worry, to reduced inflammation and calmness in our social interactions.
But something of interest is that, research suggests receiving gratitude is more potent as compared to giving gratitude. According to Andrew Huberman, when you remember the time when somebody genuinely thanked you for something that you did and the way it made you feel in receiving that gratitude, shifts our body’s neural circuitry in a more effective way as compared to writing down things you are thankful for.
If you can’t think of any event when you received gratitude, then find a story that inspires you, where someone else is receiving help, and that story actually moved you in a profound way. When you think of such a story, it steers your mental and physical health in a positive direction.
“What narrative you select is based on your taste, the story you select doesn’t need to have semblance to your life experience, it’s about the story that moves you. Find a story that is particularly meaningful for you, genuinely expressing thanks, and list down on paper what the struggle was, what the help was, and something about how does that impact you emotionally.” ~ Andrew Huberman
What a story on gratitude does to our physiology?
Stories are a powerful tool in making a difference in a person’s life. Listening to a story coordinated the heart rate of certain individuals based in different places. Even when different individuals were listening from different places at different times, their heart beats in the same rhythm.
Select a story that you will return to, even if it’s not the entire story, and you note down a few points or write a summarised version of that story, and keep coming back to it regularly, even if it’s for 5 minutes a day, will create a perceptible shift in your heart beat and breathing, and will shift your physiology into a more relaxed state.
I have been personally trying to inculcate a regular gratitude practice, first thing is for anything to be effective it has to be done regularly, whether it’s doing yoga, meditation or any form of energy work, to be reaping benefits, repetition is the key here.
Obstacles on the path of a gratitude practice
Dr. Robert Emmons, author of the book Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, said that rather than adding a task to our existing schedule, you should integrate gratitude into your daily life.
In order to put gratitude into a daily practice one does not need to create overwhelming goals or take any specific steps but open up our awareness to the gifts that come into our lives on a daily basis. Once we set an intention to notice these gifts, you bring in a multitude of benefits into your life.
He also stated that in order to achieve this you should firstly be open to receiving gratitude and here are three ways suggested by Emmons that can unlock the doors for gratitude to find its way to us.
You believe only in self-reliance
It is impossible to have a feeling of gratitude if you aren’t open to receiving, this could be even a helping hand or assistance in daily life. Others contribute to our success, this is how it works, in the course of our lives there’s always someone who lends us a hand, it could be as easy as someone opening the elevator door when you have your hands full of groceries.
Sometimes in office like scenarios when you work as a team, it’s human nature to take credit when things go well and prefer to put the blame on someone else when things go wrong. A situation like this works against the ability to feel gratitude.
It is extremely normal to focus on what’s going wrong as compared to what’s going right, this is just how our mind works. Not only that, if you try to look back in the past, it’s far easier to remember negative memories as compared to positive ones. On a personal note, when I try to recollect positive experiences as a child, I find it far easier to recollect negative experiences.
But then if you try to recollect the positive experiences and express gratitude towards them, it helps amplify the good in our lives and even helps us reduce negativity bias.
Dislike being indebted
Some of us really enjoy receiving gifts, but do you ever feel that it’s better to give gifts rather than receiving them? That’s probably because receiving it makes you feel like you now are in debt, and you need to return the favour as soon as possible. Again, this behaviour puts you in a mode where you feel obligated to give something back, and it’s stuck there at the back of your mind.
You want to pay it back, and you feel indebted instead of actually feeling grateful that you have received a gift. You have to learn to be ok with being indebted and accept the gift with gratitude, enjoy it and be thankful, don’t get stuck in a negative pattern when there’s something good going on.
The Science of Gratitude
All you really need to do is live life from a place of gratitude, to see that there are so many givers and receivers in your life and to know that each of them have a place. Incorporating a practice of gratitude is as simple as when you sit down for a meal or walk to your car, think of the same story (either personal or the story you selected) when someone was genuinely grateful to you and how touched you were with that gesture. This simple practice done regularly leaves a long-lasting impact on our health as it gets you into this mode of gratitude and neural circuits gets activated more easily with repetition of this practice.
When was the last time you received gratitude?
Dr. Andrew Huberman is a neuroscientist, associate professor in the department of neurobiology and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine.