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Life can be complicated, confusing, and stressful. Here you will find topical articles on a variety of issues known to affect physical and mental health. Each short article includes recommendations for further reading and other useful resources.

 

Raindrops on Roses: Taking in the Good

By Ronnie Biemans, Dec 16 2016 05:50PM

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” - Epictecus


From time to time when I encounter a challenging moment or when someone I hold dear is struggling, I think of a particular song from The Sound of Music a movie musical I enjoyed as a child. The song is entitled “My Favorite Things” and goes like this: “ Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of my favorite things. When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel so bad.” Rodgers and Hammerstein, the songwriters, wrote the lyrics before we had access to the brain research that supported their message.


According to Rick Hanson, PhD, in his book Buddha’s Brain, “negative trumps positive” in the brain. We have a negativity bias. This survival-based mechanism has allowed our species to continue by remembering and avoiding experiences that may injure or kill. “Given the negativity bias of the brain, it takes an active effort to internalize positive experiences and heal negative ones. When you tilt towards what’s positive, you’re actually righting a neurological imbalance.” Hanson says, “Focusing on what is wholesome and then taking it in naturally increases the positive emotions flowing through your mind each day. Emotions have global effects since they organize the brain as a whole.” Positive feelings have far reaching benefits and can build a stronger immune system, support a cardiovascular system that is less reactive to stress, and help minimize the effects of trauma.


Recently, Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis and Dr. Michael McCollough of Southern Methodist University conducted a study focused on gratitude. Three groups were given a task and studied. The first group kept a diary of all events that occurred during the day; the second group recorded their unpleasant experiences; and the last group made a daily list of things for which they were grateful.


The results of the study indicated that daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. Additionally, the gratitude group experienced less depression and stress, was more likely to help others, exercised more regularly, and made more progress toward personal goals. McCollough and Emmons also noted that gratitude encouraged a positive cycle of reciprocal kindness among people, since one act of gratitude encourages another.


In his book “Thanks!” Emmons writes, "Preliminary findings suggest that those who regularly practice grateful thinking do reap emotional, physical, and interpersonal benefits. Grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism. The practice of gratitude as a discipline protects a person from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness." Emmons holds that, "Gratitude is a quality that we should aspire to as part and parcel of personal growth." Emmons shares a cautionary note that we have to overcome what may be an innate human "negativity bias," noted by Rick Hanson and others as well. For some of us seeing the glass as half empty comes naturally. Therefore, practice is key. Practice makes perfect or at least practice makes the feeling of gratitude more deeply ingrained and more likely to create a positive effect.


Taking on the Gratitude Challenge: Gratitude Journaling and a Family Activity


How can we practice gratitude in a way that can be easily incorporated into our busy lives? Consider these two approaches focused on the individual and one on the family:


Gratitude Journal


A gratitude journal is a strategy that allows us to consciously call attention to the things we are thankful for. By focusing on gratitude, we become aware and create a shift in our thinking to the positive. The following steps can get you started:


1. Choose a blank notebook to write in. Keep a pen and the notebook next to your bed.


2. Look for things during the day for which you are grateful to add to your notebook at bedtime.


3. Write three to five things you're grateful for each night before bedtime. Review the day and

Include anything, however small or great, that was a source of blessing or benefits that day, e.g., a baby's smile, a flower in bloom, or clouds in a blue sky. If you are inspired, expand a bit and write a few words about your blessings. The bigger you make the experience the more you will remember and “take in the good.”


4. Begin looking every day for the positive view in all things. View obstacles as opportunities to

appreciate or learn.


5. Focus on the wonderful things in life to attract similar encounters in the course of the day.


6. Personalize the gratitude journal. Expand it with clippings, photos, or quotes from books or

magazines.


Family Activity: Gratitude Tree


Create the trunk and branches of a large tree using brown craft paper and hang it on a door or wall. Cut out or purchase paper leaves to hang on your tree. Each day distribute a new leaf to the children in the family. Have them write something they are thankful for (or write for them if they are not writing yet) on the leaf and tape it to the tree. Once a week, remove all the leaves from the tree and use them to decorate a table. During a meal or snack time, have the children take turns reading the leaves aloud (or read aloud to them if they are not reading yet.) Collect the leaves at the end of the meal and save a few for a year-end or Thanksgiving gratitude dinner.


Sources and Resources:


Research articles


Frederickson, B.L. 2000. Cultivating positive emotions to optimize health and well-being. Prevention and Treatment


Books


Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson, PhD and Richard Mendius, MD


Thanks! By Robert Emmons, PhD


Videos


Sleep Meditation Bedtime Gratitude


Rick Hanson: Taking in the Good


Robert Emmons: Benefits of Gratitude


About the Author:


Informed by over 25 years of professional training and work experience as well as her many years of meditation and yoga practice, Ronnie Biemans, M.A., L.C.P.C., is guided by a core philosophy to focus on strengths, not deficits or pathology. By discovering, restoring and optimizing each person’s unique ability to thrive and meet the demands, of today’s fast-paced, stressful world, those who have encountered physical and emotional health challenges can discover ways to improve their lives and well being. Operating from her home office and in other community settings, Ronnie provides guidance and support to individuals, families and groups seeking to live healthy, balanced lives.


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