Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Science of Gratitude

Okay, that is a dumb title. I know it. But I stole it from an article I read whose writer did not think it was dumb. And, since dumb can be subjective, I read the piece from start to finish. What I found was that the word "science" was used loosly. Kind of like other words we throw around when we really mean something a little different.

Like "addiction". We use "addiction" for simple habits or strong preferences. I'm addicted to checking facebook too often. I'm addicted to watching Justified, or Elementary, or Newsroom. I'm addicted to Jazzercise. Somehow, using the word relieves me of needing to do the work to change the habit if it needs changing for quality of life. If I can actually do the work to change the habit all by myself, chances are great that I am not addicted. I may have an attachment to the thing, and it may be truly hard work to change my behavior, but using "addicted" for behavior I am able to change whenever I want to waters down the true state of the mind when addiction is the reality.

Okay, back to the Science of Gratitude. I imagine that scientists cringe when some of us use the "S" word. I have a friend whom I admire greatly who pointed out that we can't proof for God. If we could, faith would be an obsolete endeavor. Even though many people can point to times in their lives when God revealed something to them in a way that left them no room for doubt about the existence of God, science didn't enter into it. We can't quantify feelings or beliefs. No matter how strongly we feel about them, they can't be proven in a scientific study. I have a sneaky feeling (not provable) that God prefers us to truly experience free will. An irrefutable scientific study proving the existence of God would take free will away entirely.

Gratitude does improve our lives. Gratitude lifts our spirits and makes us less selfish, less critical, and less apt to compare our lives to those of others and come up short. Gratitude is a habit of the mind. And, like other habits, it can be built by conscious repetition until it becomes our go-to response to life. If my brain were a bicep, curls and bent arm hangs would produce noticeable delineation. And maybe, just maybe, the work of grateful hearts/grateful minds does show on us physically. Maybe the sparkle in the eyes of someone you meet is an indication that they live joyfully.

Whether or not a grateful heart makes us live longer or overcome disease more surely isn't science. Not to me. There are too many unknowns, too many variables within the human mind. Some of the most positive, faithful, grateful people I have known have died early from disease. Or lingered long in a debilitated state. My Grandma Rozell was one of the most positive, faithful people ever. But she lost her mind, and her life, to Alzheimer. It was a slow process, and a heartbreaking one. Gratitude did not save her from that. But gratitude shaped her life before the disease took her personal will. Her grateful heart made people want to be with her, to enjoy her laugh and her light spirit. Her grateful spirit lives on in my mind, and the hearts of those who loved her.

The Art of Gratitude. That makes more sense, to me. Art is something we can produce ourselves, by sheer courage, letting others see what we see. The side of my brain that works the hardest is the side that sees in color, not black and white. I'm grateful for the colors, for the questions asked through the centuries, for the freedom that is art. I'm also grateful we have scientists who follow the rules of logic and post their findings for the rest of us to ponder. Both sides of the coin require Thinkers.

Some people say money makes the world go round. I would say gratitude makes the world go round. But I can't prove it.

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