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Month: April 2011

On Gratitude

On Gratitude

Something I have been thinking about lately is the effect of gratitude on life. I’m not alone in this: Wikipedia has a long article on gratitude and the research that is being done looking into its effect on people. And in a way, that just makes it all the better.

So, here’s the interesting part. They say to make a journal of things for which you are grateful:

Out of the six conditions, the longest lasting effects were caused by the act of writing “gratitude journals” where participants were asked to write down three things they were grateful for every day. These participants’ happiness scores also increased and continued to increase each time they were tested periodically after the experiment. (From Wikipedia’s Article on Gratitude)

And a lot of people will start doing just that. And the first few entries will seem really really banal. Because we are grateful for the simple, obvious things first. But what about when you keep doing it? Then what happens?

In fact, the greatest benefits were usually found to occur around six months after treatment began. This exercise was so successful that although participants were only asked to continue the journal for a week, many participants continued to keep the journal long after the study was over. (ibid)

This ties in (again) to the writing I’ve been doing on Favorite Thing EVER: the more I look for things that I really really love the more I realize that the world is full of lovely things. And the field isn’t getting narrower. I’ve written a number of articles for that site, and I still see a growing number of new things every day that are worthy of a write up. It’s really pretty amazing. But after reading the results of the studies listed above I’d like to try the real experiment: Six months of writing about three things I’m grateful each day. This is actually kind of exciting!

Writing has always felt (to me) like scrubbing my soul; as I write freely I start to see who I actually am, and start to climb out of the scared, bored shell that builds all too quickly around me.

So, I’ll let you know how it goes, both of you who stop by here from time to time. Stay tuned to this…er, Rss feed!

The Enduring Emotion

The Enduring Emotion

Some years ago I was hiking out of the Grand Canyon with some friends. We left late at night and hiked in the dark to avoid the heat. It had been raining, there had been lightning storms and I was basically sick and tired of the elements trying to kill me. Suddenly, there was the sound you don’t want to hear when you’re hiking up a slot canyon: rushing water.

We all realized what that meant at the same time, and scrabbled for higher ground before the flash flood came down on top of us. I had been hurting, worried, tired, but at that moment I was just flat out scared. Everything else was lost as I tried to get out of the way.1

When my wife and I were first dating, I scheduled a little trip for us up to Boise, where I was secretly planning to propose. The day before we left, she called me up.

“I’m thinking that, when we’re in Boise, You’re going to ask me to marry you.” She said. “And I’m thinking I’ll say yes.”

I nearly fell over, my joy was overwhelming. The fact that my little proposal was now somewhat less than a formality was not important, what was important is that she was willing to spend her life with me.

So here’s the point. I’m no longer afraid of that flash flood. I still feel the joy I felt in that moment when my wife agreed to become my wife, but now it’s a low, warm, permanent glow, instead of an explosion. But there’s one emotion that seems to stay as strong as the moment it happened: Embarrassment.

That time I … nope, not even on a blog that I know for a fact nobody reads, I can’t say it. That time I embarrassed myself back in high school still stings, still hits me like a hammer when I think of it, even though it’s been well over a decade since it happened.

Why is this? Joy, anger, fear, happiness, they all fade after a while. More basic feelings like hunger, exhaustion, and pain pretty much go away when the biological trigger is removed. Why doesn’t embarrassment? Is there some biological imperative that we keep being almost physically hurt by things that, in the final analysis, didn’t actually damage us?

I don’t have a real thesis for this one; I’m just wondering. If you happen across this article and have an opinion I’d love to hear it. Maybe someone even knows how to get rid of the feeling.

Or maybe everyone else already knows the secret and I’m the only one still in the dark. That would be embarrassing.

  1. For the record, the flash flood ended up being about six inches deep. But that’s not the point. []