Do good things and good things happen to you
18th november 2014
‘There are two kinds of gratitude: the sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give.’ (Edward Robinson)
Christmas - ‘tis the season of goodwill. How many times do we say it, but never think too hard about the real benefits to us and others? Well, there’s more to this than meets the eye and it’s all to do with gratitude. It’s often said that it’s better to give than to receive but why is this?
Gratitude is a positive emotion and as such has well-researched benefits on our psychological wellbeing, our physical health and our relationships with others. Studies in the US have found that people who make a concerted effort around gratitude in their lives improve a whole range of physical wellbeing – from sleep, to immunity, to everyday aches and pains. People also ‘feel’ better – more alert, vibrant and optimistic. They’re also more social – more outgoing, friendly and feel less lonely and isolated. All round, it’s a pretty interesting area of psychology.
What’s equally interesting is the degree to which expressing gratitude for something is a learned emotion – unlike anger which is a natural reaction. So gratitude involves making judgements – it’s a higher level of emotional wellbeing. It’s why it makes us feel so good. No doubt it’s an emotion Elsa Hammond felt all too keenly as she headed back to shore after risking her life in the Pacific – read about how she got on here.
The other interesting aspect is the social one. Those unexpected moments of delight when someone does something for which you say thank you. You pick up a bag someone has dropped in the street, you let someone who needs to sit down on the tube take your seat. Gratitude is naturally reciprocal – it’s hard when someone does something for you not to reciprocate in some way – it’s a natural balming oil of society. We think this is the time of year to think about it, do more of it and everyone affected can feel better. This idea of reciprocation is not confined to humanity either – as Sebastian explains in his fascinating article about plants.
So think about your day today and think about the moments when you could or perhaps even should have been grateful for something and put and extra special effort into doing it. And likewise think about how you can create a moment of gratitude and see the effect it has on you and those around you. It’s hard not to smile. In our busy lives we often lose touch with these simple things.
‘The most important aspect of love is not in giving or the receiving; it's in the being. When I need love from others, or need to give love to others, I'm caught in an unstable situation. Being in love, rather than giving or taking love, is the only thing that provides stability. Being in love means seeing the Beloved all around me.’ (Ram Das)