Gratitude is an amazing emotion. According to Harvard Medical School, gratitude can supply positive emotions resulting in greater happiness. It can improve your health. Gratitude can also provide a means of dealing more effectively with adversity and assist in building strong relationships.
We are only just beginning to understand why gratitude works in the way it does. Early forms of gratitude practice have focused on exercises that emphasized our appreciation of what we are thankful for in our lives. This is a practice that I have routinely followed for many years. But I’ve recently become aware of new scientific findings that suggest there might be a better practice if I want to reap the benefits listed above.
This new process is based on feeling (a strong emotional reaction) the result of someone else’s gratitude coming from something you’ve done for them. Or, alternatively, extracting this emotional lift from a story about someone else’s experience that has great personal meaning to you.
I have tried out this new method and find it much more effective. Thanks to the scientists at the Huberman Lab podcast, which I will embed here, for my new practice. I have tried to summarize the important points, but listen to the podcast if you want to gain a better understanding.
As a writer, I thoroughly understand the power behind story. Story has existed since our ancestral cave dwelling days, as a means of communicating vital information. It grabs our interest and its message stays with us. When a dynamic story is repeated, it actually changes our way of thinking by developing new neuronal connections in our brains through a process called neuroplasticity. You don’t need a thorough understanding of how this works, just know that it does work for everyone.
This new gratitude practice can work for you too. It’s very simple.
Step One: Find a Gratitude Story that Resonates with You
Recall a time when someone authentically expressed thankfulness to you for something you did. I recalled an incident from years ago when I helped out someone I’d just met. The act was small and I thought it a very minor thing to do. But from that action, she benefited in a positive way. I ran into her a month or so later and she told me just how important my act of kindness was to her and how it had changed her life. Her gratitude and its authentic expression lifted my mood so much that I enjoyed the energy from it for the rest of the day.
This kind of expression of gratitude is rare so don’t be concerned if you have not experienced it. There are interesting and effective stories all over the Internet that you can use to capture the same effect. Make sure it is about someone receiving help from another person that is extremely gratifying. The story should affect you emotionally in a compelling way.
Step Two: Write a Short Analysis of That Story
Feel the emotional energy that the story produces in you. As you do, write down a few bullet points. I used a 3X5 card to record my answers to these questions.
- What was the struggle?
- What help was performed?
- How did the incident impact you emotionally?
Step Three: Practice
You are now ready to recall this story and the way it made you feel. Read through your notes as you vividly recall the story in your mind. Allow your emotions to respond in that moment. This is not a time-consuming process. It will take approximately one to three minutes. Repeat throughout the week as often as you like, but do it a minimum of three times.
Repetition is the key to building your neuronal connections.
As an aside note, you can do a considerable service to someone else by sincerely expressing your gratitude when that person performs a kindness for you. Now that you know how powerful this is, make someone’s day. You’ll be doing more than saying a simple “thank you.” You’ll positively affect their health.
As science continues to study emotions, we will find new ways of making our lives better. Our emotions are our friends. And they are all amazing.
Copyright 2022, Monica Nelson