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The attitude of gratitude

Gratitude was a topic on another site and a video link was shared - Andrew Huberman, sharing research suggesting that it is the action of being thanked that is healthy for us rather than writing a Gratitude List. "The Science of Gratitude & How to Build a Gratitude Practice | Huberman Lab Podcast #47" (Youtube)

*Housekeeping note - I added a post to the Topic about freedom to love. Peace is loving yourself first. A vlogger, Caroline Winkler, shares a falling in love/sick story. As a trauma survivor, lack of trust is a problem. She shares that she had to learn to trust that she would be able to cope whether he texted back or not and she was disappointed in herself that she cared so much when he did and had to think through the feelings.

If "writing a Gratitude List" is assigned like a therapy chore and viewed by the patient as a chore, then indeed that might not shift the person's mindset. They might view it as a chore to get through, in order to please the therapist, rather than to try to change their internal mind-talk. Writing a gratitude list strategy is only one strategy and it has helped some people shift their thinking patterns. What is not good thinking - "stinking thinking" in Alcoholic's Anonymous talk - is seeing the negative in everything and some people grew up in families that only see and talk about the negatives. That is the attitude that needs to be substituted with more positive internal talk. The sun is shining - oh joy! The rain is falling, the plants need it - oh joy! I am at a fun event and it is a little hectic - oh joy! I am at home in peace and quiet and it is a little boring - oh joy!

The scientist makes the point that if the person is feeling compelled to do something - write a list - then the brain will know that and not feel any better. I would agree with that finding.

In my own healing journey, I have never spent much time on "assigned" therapy type strategies. I found a mindfulness approach as described by Jon Kabat-Zinn in "Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness". His list of attitudes to work towards in practicing mindfulness are included in this post:

Mindfulness practice might look like sitting meditation, but it might also be washing dishes or going for a walk in a peaceful state of mind - living in the moment. Simply enjoying the activity in the present rather than feeling pressured to get on to the next chore, or feeling resentful that someone else isn't doing the dishes. We can be grateful that we are still physically and mentally capable of doing the chore - we can be grateful that our body is capable, that we have running water, that we had food for a meal, that we have a roof keeping us protected from the weather. I don't sit well, my body hurts and goes paralyzed (dystonia). While I did learn/practice Zen style sitting meditation a little, it was never right for me. I go numb. Walking, dancing, Whirling Dervish style spinning, doing dishes...mindful living happens all day long. It is not something that you sit and write a list about - unless maybe you are a type of person who likes sitting and writing lists.

The having a grateful attitude is about internal stress levels - the attitude of gratitude for anything positive, is helping the body not get into inflammatory levels of stress. Dwelling on negatives or what isn't done yet is keeping the body in a more negative stress state. Helping others should provide a positive benefit for your health even if the person doesn't thank you - if you are doing it because it needs to be done and you want to do it rather than are only doing it in order to be thanked. The feeling good is from doing good, not being thanked for it - though that is certainly nice too and would increase dopamine and oxytocin/vasopressin. Mothers are not thanked for changing diapers yet they still do it. Hopefully the baby is responsive and thanking with smiles and coos, but a few babies can't.

The US/West is very unusual in the way fundraising is made into a social pressure thing - I Helped Badge! I am so Great Badge! In Asian cultures helping is done discretely and would never be highlighted in a social media style with an "I donated! Badge." Doing good, is for the purpose of having done good, for good things to get accomplished, not for getting social acclaim. Other cultures looking at the US think we are weird - and they may be correct.

If we make "gratitude" benefits be about being thanked, then you are always in a validation trap - seeking external validation instead of appreciating yourself. What if the person doesn't thank you? Maybe they didn't want your help or maybe they don't see the same need or have the same priorities as you, or don't think that the solution you are offering really is helpful (CoV jabs for example).

To me gratitude attitude is simply about seeing and appreciating what is good in life, even when bad things are happening too. A Ram Dass video in my yesterday post is very helpful and beautifully illustrated:

Returning to the Andrew Huberman video - the science findings suggest that observing others helping people also can promote good feelings in us. Helping or seeing positive help would promote a dopamine and oxytocin/vasopressin boost in the helper or the observer. We see it in social media and the news - the feel good story or cute pet video - we all need some positive in our day. The flaw in that is the observer is still not living their own life, doing their own actions. Will the good feeling from observing the helper, lead to the observer also pitching in and helping someone else?

A theme Andrew repeats from the science findings is about narrative - what story are we telling ourselves? What story are we listening to? Stinking thinking? or an attitude of seeing something good even if there is also bad. When we spend time around people who constantly blame others we may get sucked into that style of thinking or we may take note that blaming is not getting that person anywhere better in life.

Seeking external validation, or an external source to blame, are both victim mentality - someone else is in charge of me and my mental state - "I am helpless and hopeless to change it." That is the attitude that needs to be changed. A gratitude of attitude is a shift to being in charge of your own attitude - things are bad, but this is also good and I am grateful for this good thing, and for the bad thing that makes it really obvious that the good thing is better.

The good news - practicing the new style of thinking - without any resentment about something having been an assigned chore - can change the brain and heart nerve pathways to be calmer and less likely to head into an unhealthy level of stress chemicals at future times of stress. When we practice calm acceptance, we are more likely to calmly see and accept whatever is happening and be in a less reactive state of mind and more capable of thinking rationally about the best response instead of reacting impulsively out of a fear or anger mindset. "The Science of Gratitude & How to Build a Gratitude Practice | Huberman Lab Podcast #47" (Youtube)

The positive changes in the brain were also seen with mindfulness practice - of at least 6-8 weeks - per Jon Kabat-Zinn. The brain builds new pathways and removes old ones - in response to new pathways being habitually used and the old ones, not even thought about. Andrew mentions that "gratitude practice" only takes a minute or two . . . I would encourage shifting to a view that "gratitude practice" is something to do for a minute or two . . . throughout the day . . . everyday. The goal is thinking differently all the time, and that means all day practice is the goal, not a set thing to do once a day because your therapist or doctor told you to.

To change habits the science shows that we have best success by substituting a new action rather than trying to "be strong" and just "resist" the addiction or bad habit. Physiologically - adequate cannabinoids are needed for the brain plasticity/nerve pathways to be changed. We need cannabinoids both to learn new material and to forget the old.

Without bad, would good exist? Or would everything be bland and boring? Rainbows and lightning are both beautiful and joyfully, we get both in life!

I am grateful for awe inspiring nature and I seek it out daily in images, or by going outside.

Mindset matters - another episode was shared with me, thanks! This post was written about a conversation (in the Comments section) inspired by this post: Why do we bother? - by Joel Smalley - Dead Man Talking (

  • Dr. Alia Crum: Science of Mindsets for Health & Performance | Huberman Lab Podcast #56 (Youtube)

My concern with thinking of gratitude as being about being thanked or observing someone being thanked, (based on science studies), is that is a mindset of external validation or stimulus. Mindfulness practice is about internal calm and self acceptance as well as accepting whatever circumstances are happening. And science studies are always somewhat skewed by being an artificial situation rather than someone doing their own thing in their own way.

I would have failed at working towards inner peace using only "sitting meditation" as it makes my body hurt - and if I had been in a study, that may have added to results showing "no benefit".

Science findings can be guidance to work into individual needs.

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

1 Comment

Aug 29, 2023

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