Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Insight: “Thanking” outside the box

By Lorraine Glowczak

This is an early week for the newspaper, arriving in your mailboxes on Wednesday - just in time before we celebrate the day of thanks. Tomorrow most of us will be sitting around the table enjoying the usual turkey fixings with friends and family; taking the opportunity to share our gratitude toward our loved ones – and for life itself.

Now that the holidays are about to go into high gear with decorating, shopping, family gatherings and holiday parties, we might begin to feel overwhelmed - so much so that we will forget the gratefulness we felt at Thanksgiving.

But we should not despair if we neglect appreciation during these stressful moments as we try to create the “perfect” season of merriness. You – and I - certainly do not need to add guilt to the package that comes with the holiday busyness.

We all know the benefits that come with feeling grateful; benefits such as improving physical and mental health, reducing aggression, enhancing empathy and improving self-esteem. But there seems to be more. I recently learned two things about gratitude. First – more is not necessarily better. 

According to Psychologist, Dr. Amy Gordan, “people who tracked their gratitude once per week were happier after six weeks, whereas those who wrote and tracked their gratitude three times per week were not.”

Secondly, I discovered that if one consistently expresses or feels gratitude on a weekly basis, it changes the chemistry of the brain – and the benefits can last over time.

In an article entitled, “How gratitude changes you and your brain” written by Psychology Professors, Dr. Joel Wong and Dr. Joshua Brown, research indicates that gratitude can train the brain and be long lasting. Wong and Brown tested nearly 300 adults, mostly college students who were seeking mental health counseling at a university and discovered the following:

 “When we compared those who wrote the gratitude letters with those who didn’t, the gratitude letter writers showed greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex when they experienced gratitude in the fMRI scanner. This is striking as this effect was found three months after the letter writing began. This indicates that simply expressing gratitude may have lasting effects on the brain. While not conclusive, this finding suggests that practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, and this could contribute to improved mental health over time.”

So, if you miss a whole week and the grateful feelings escape you, no need to panic. Scientific findings indicate that the attitude of gratitude is long lasting and will carry you through the rough holiday spots.

And speaking about those rough spots. I’d like to “thank” outside the box and remember those who may be experiencing the holidays without a loved one or are facing some form of hardship. If this is the case for you, I promise not to tell you to “count your blessings” as I wish to respect your grief.

So, whether you are in a “full throttle ahead” holiday spirit and the stress causes you to forget to be thankful or if grief is your journey this year, remember that studies indicate that past spoken gratitude will carry you for a while. And for that, I am grateful.

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