lederr

what are you grateful for? practice gratitude.

In Alternative Health, Fitness/Health, Mindfulness on Friday, 2 November 2012 at 06:25

The Year In Gratitude: Introducing the virtual Gratitude Visit

By DANIEL TOMASULO, PH.D.

“You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.” — Paulo Coelho

Each year is a transition.  We let go of relationships, connections to places, jobs and ways of being.  But this opens us to new people, new associations and different ways of relating.  Through death or circumstance or choice we move away from those we loved, or cared for, or knew: The unknown, the surprise, the unexpected takes their place.  This is life.

Too often the losses weigh us down with a centrifugal sadness that keeps us pinned to the passing.  Our energy is invested in the mourning, often for longer than what may be healthy or helpful.

But the loss we experience is directly proportional to the joy and love and engagement we’ve had.  We feel the pain because we knew the joy.  So the grieving must honor the connection as well.

The research on gratitude keeps demonstrating how powerful a positive intervention of having gratitude in our lives can be.  To acknowledge someone for being in your life is one of the most dynamic ways to increase your well-being and the well-being of others.  This exercise works best if you write it down, and even better if you can deliver a letter of gratitude to the person involved.  Here’s how it works.

Think of a person who has been a positive person in your life, but with whom you are no longer involved.  Write out a letter of gratitude for the positive features of your relationship.

If it is possible and appropriate, meaning that it would not cause harm, embarrassment or upset to the other person, find them.  Track them down and read them the letter.  This is the famous gratitude visit exercise researched by Martin Seligman, the positive psychology researcher.

If they are unavailable or have died, read the letter out loud to an empty chair.  Let them know how much you appreciate who they are (were) and the joy and gratitude you have for them being (or have been) in your life.

Now for the interesting part: Reverse roles. Sit in the empty chair and become them for the role play. As them, respond to the letter that was just read to you.

Finally, come back into your own chair and say the final things you wish to say.  Notice how you feel.  Yes, they may no longer be in your life, but honoring the joys they brought you can help them if they are available, and you feel better if it is done through an empty chair.  I call this second method the Virtual Gratitude Visit (VGV).

There may be others you would like to share your gratitude with.  New research has show that gratitude toward God is perhaps one of the most powerful ways to evoke feelings of well-being.  With a VGV you may want to express your gratitude toward God.  Yes, it is okay to reverse roles and become him, but don’t forget to come back to your own chair.  Otherwise you are going to find a lot of prayer requests in your email inbox.

Last but not least, as we transition into the New Year, perform a VGV toward the people we haven’t met.  When I think back to last January and the people I said goodbye to over the year, literally several dozen new people came into my life who have filled me with unexpected joy and hope and wonderment.  Gratitude can be used to open us up to the future.  Try a VGV with a person you haven’t met yet but know you are scheduled to meet, or to the unknown, unexpected encounters you are bound to have. You may even want to express your gratitude toward a future self, the person you are becoming over the next year.

Finally, when the dust from the VGVs settles down, take a moment and review the year. Notice your breath.  Just like people and events in our life, our breath is drawn in and released.  We don’t hold on or just breathe out: we take in and let go.  What we are left with is the stuff of life.

We began with the words of the brilliant Brazilian lyricist and novelist, Paulo Coelho.  I don’t think anyone could say it more clearly than him, so it seems fitting to end with his thoughts as well. “When someone leaves, it’s because someone else is about to arrive.” 

References

Rosmarin, D.H., Pirutinsky, S., Cohen. A., Galler, Y., & Krumrei, E.J. (2011). Grateful to God or just plain grateful? A study of religious and non-religious gratitude. Journal of Positive Psychology, 6(5), 389-396.

Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410.

Tomasulo, D. (2011). Can God and Gratitude Help Your Mental Health?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 27, 2011, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives /2011/12/11/can-god-and-gratitude-help-your-mental-health/

Retrieved from: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/01/03/the-year-in-gratitude-introducing-the-virtual-gratitude-visit/

Gratitude Research Delivered: Diagnosis, Part Two

By DANIEL TOMASULO, PH.D.

Jen Cunningham Butler uses a highly proactive and inspiring approach in dealing with the anniversary of her cancer diagnosis. At once it was corrective and intuitive; courageous and simple; heartfelt and effective.  Jen prepares for the day by honoring her health and recovery. She actively demonstrates her gratitude toward the physicians, nurses  and support staff involved in her treatment. Her story is detailed in Part One.

Part One chronicles Butler’s ongoing effort to demonstrate gratitude to all those who helped during her treatment.  These are simple acts of gratitude such as writing notes, bringing a tray of goodies into the treatment center, and even lollipops to the parking attendants.

Although these offerings of gratitude are modest, these actions undid the anxiety of recalling the day, while activating a positive sense of self and affecting others.  Instead of anxiety and depression, she was able to instill joy, feelings of well-being, and hope — because some of the goodies were delivered personally to women currently undergoing radiation.

We could leave this as a beautiful example of a human interest story, knowing that the tale alone will inspire others to approach their diagnosis day, divorce day, or whatever their “D” Day is in a different manner.  But there is something more to this story that intrigued me.

What Jen had done intuitively was to follow some foundational research in gratitude.  In fact, the cornerstone of what she did is an exact representation of one of the original positive interventions offered by Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association and the man introduced at conferences now as the “Father of Positive Psychology.”

In a seminal 2005 article, Seligman and his colleagues (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005) reported on studies with five positive interventions.  One of these they simply called the gratitude visit.  The Internet-based study engaged participants to write a letter of gratitude to someone who had been particularly kind to them in the past, but who had never been properly thanked.  Then the participants had to deliver the letter personally.

Sound familiar?

What made this study so unique in the field of positive psychology was that it was a randomized control study. The gold standard of research designs, it randomly assigns participants to the condition(s) being studied, one of which is a placebo.  The placebo condition for this experiment was to ask participants to write about their early memories every night for a week. These folks were then compared to people delivering the gratitude visit.  Those participants were given a week to write and deliver a letter of gratitude as described above.

The researchers used results from 411 participants and measured them on two scales, the Center for Epidemiological Studies–Depression Scale (CES-D), and the Steen Happiness Index (SHI).

The results?  One week after the study, people taking part in the gratitude visit were happier and less depressed, and this lasted for one month after they had completed the visit.  Of the five interventions studied, those taking part in the gratitude visit demonstrated the greatest positive change.

There are two interesting features of this study.  First, it demonstrates that a gratitude visit isn’t merely an act of kindness, it is a proven method of improving well-being by increasing happiness and reducing symptoms of depression.  Second, a six-month followup of all participants found that those who continued their particular exercise on their own continued to experience long-term benefits.

Jen thinks about her gratitude visits all year long.  Her benefits are ongoing.

Thank you, Jen, for giving us inspiration and encouragement with your ongoing examples of turning lemons into lemon trees.  For the rest of us there is only one question left: Who are we going to write our gratitude letter to?

For more information and another gratitude intervention check here.

References

Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410.

Tomasulo, D. (2012). The Year in Gratitude: Introducing the Virtual Gratitude VisitPsych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2012, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/01/03/the-year-in-gratitude-introducing-the-virtual-gratitude-visit/

Retrieved from: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/11/01/gratitude-research-delivered-diagnosis-day-part-two/

 

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