A little over 15 years ago, there was a school of psychological thought born that was called “Positivity Psychology,” and its most famous proponents were part of the teaching staff at the University of Pennsylvania. Now, when I say, “positivity psychology,” I am not talking about anything you’d find in a greeting card aisle, or on a sappy motivational calendar. This stuff was practical, not particularly emotional, and the result of years of research, using real people with real problems. Those studied had found a way to deal with difficulty in a way that is markedly different from most folks, and the good news is, it is a skill that everyone can learn. The bad news is, because you were not designed by your Maker to be a grump, indulging your negative self has been really hard on your grey matter. Learning a new way, or “growing a new brain,” is some of the hardest work you’ll ever do. However, it is also some of the most rewarding.
My first “slap in the face” back then was encountering a book written by one of the U Penn profs by the name of Dr. Martin Seligman, and his book was entitled Learned Optimism. I went skipping through the test, expecting to pass with flying colors and be designated as a positive person. I had to eat a lot of humble pie when I discovered that I was a secret grump, with a whole lot of victimization in my thinking.
My second slap was learning of the work of Dr. Paul Pearsall, who had done some fascinating work with Holocaust survivors, and found several things. First, the endorphins or “feel good” chemicals in the brain were highly addictive in a good way. By contrast, the chemicals produced by being sour were similar to anesthesia, which is also horribly addictive. Pearsall’s patients had found a way to re-frame what had happened to them, bathed their brain and heart literally in the chemical of forgiveness, and found that in spite of what they had been through, they could live in a basic state of joy. In addition, it was clinically determined that not one was in a state of denial or repressed memory. They had just worked really hard, followed Biblical principles, and were reaping the benefits.
Recently I came across another study, (a long term one), that was conducted simultaneously at the University of California, and on the other coast at the University of Miami, and it corroborated what even mainstream medical folks have known for a long time: people who proactively live in an intentional “attitude of gratitude” are just better off; physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. Ancient wisdom from Proverbs says it best: “A merry heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” However, the study went on to say that there was something else that had, in a way, been missed by the “positivity people,” and that was “reflexive gratitude.”
Many people are determined to send their gratitude out, either vertically or horizontally. Most of us understand the spiritual power of praise, as well as saying thank you to the people around us. But did you know there is an extra layer of effect when, in the process of expressing gratitude, you tell yourself what the impact has had?
Let me give you an example: You get off the phone with your kids and you had an especially satisfying conversation. You tell yourself, “I needed that, and boy, did he/she make my day! I am so blessed to have him/her in my life.” This intensifies the impact, and it is as simple as doing something we all do secretly anyway, and that is, talk to ourselves! Yes, it is ok to just think it, but saying it out loud is even better, even if nobody is there in the room with you. Either way, you are lobbing “grenades of gratitude,” with the result being an explosion that is good for everyone except the dark side.
Try it, and tell me what you think. And if you catch me being sour, I give you permission to bust me!
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner