Sunday, 21 December 2014

Gratitude : T2 article dated 21st Dec' 2014

In the popular TV show The Simpsons , Bart Simpson offers grace at the family dinner table " Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing." 

Thank you! An essential part of our verbal interaction, from family dinners to diplomatic negotiations, which we say often but seldom mean it. Maybe deep inside we tend to dismiss gratitude as a simple, obvious sentimental feeling not worth serious attention. Instead we overlook the privileges that we enjoy and keep ruminating about what we've lost and what we do not have.
Gratitude is not about being thankful to a greater power but to be appreciative and thankful to the people and things that we already have in life. It in turn induces the feeling of wanting to give back to them or to contribute.
Recent research suggests that people who practise gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:

  • Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure.
  • Higher levels of positive emotions.
  • Acting with more generosity and compassion.

Studies in the field of psychology also suggest that: Gratitude helps us savour positive life experiences, it boosts our self- worth and self- esteem. It helps us deal with stress and trauma; it minimises negative thinking, reduces anger and makes us feel more connected and less lonely. It also helps us receive more from each moment.
Most of us have a cup of hot coffee from the tea/ coffee vending machine after reaching our workplace. We never think much of it. Only when it breaks down and we don't get our cup of coffee, do we realise how much we are used to it.
As humans, our ability to adapt is the reason we get ' used to' things and it may create in us a tendency to take things for granted. As we get used to everything quickly, we develop a need for a constant supply of ' more' to feel happy. At times it can become a compulsive need for ' more'. This chase perpetuates the cycle as we go on taking what we have for granted, leaving us feeling empty and ungrateful.
One of the challenges to feeling grateful is hedonic adaptation, an interesting characteristic of the human mind. It is the tendency in most of us to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness ( or unhappiness) despite major positive or negative events or life changes. When we lose something emotionally significant we have the ability to adapt to that loss. The incident of losing a loved one, which we thought we would never get over, also lessens in intensity. But at times this very same coping mechanism can also keep us from feeling joyous and happy in our day to day life.
Let's say you absolutely want to have a particular thing, maybe the latest model of a car, dream house or the job you have been eying for long.
If you get it, you may be ecstatic initially but soon your mind would adapt to the newly acquired object and it will become a part of your mundane routine. Studies show that the happiness levels of when we do not have the object we desire and the happiness levels a few months after acquiring the object are nearly the same.
The antidote to this hedonic adaptation is the practice of gratitude. Not just the one that we feel occasionally but practising it consciously. Cultivating the attitude of gratitude for all the things ' we have' can go a long way in helping us stay happy and joyful.
We can train our mind to feel gratitude. Here are a few ways to do that... ..

Keep a gratitude journal: 

At least once a week reflect on the good things that you have received from life. Jot down three to five things in detail, from the most mundane like finally getting hold of your plumber to something magnificent like your baby's first step. Write about your feelings in detail and appreciate people who are directly or indirectly involved in it.
Occasionally go back to this journal to read about these ' good things'. ..

Express gratitude: 

Once in a while express gratitude to the people who have contributed positively to your life. Again they can be from any sphere of your life, from your co- workers to your parents. After a few months of practice, try to appreciate people you are slightly upset with. Maybe you can be grateful to them for something else. Say 'thank you' or write a letter describing how they have positively influenced your life. It's even better if you can deliver this letter personally. Give a token gift to somebody to express your gratitude. You can start with your partner or spouse.
Encourage your children to be thankful and appreciate the resources, including those which they get from mother earth.

Encourage ' enough- ness' within:

Teach yourself to see ' enough' in what you already have.
Practise gratitude — reflect on the good things that you have received from life. Once in a while express gratitude to the people who have contributed positively to your life. For this at times you may need to say ' no' to the part of you which wants more. Attitude of 'enoughness' and gratitude go hand in hand." Entitlement", " wanting more" and gratitude do not gel. If you are a parent, help your children to appreciate ' enough' and discourage entitlement by occasionally making them listen to " no". Learn to say no to yourself as well. A little tantrum or transient sadness is actually a good price to build this attitude of appreciation and gratitude for wholesome happiness and joy.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at :
dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Forgiveness and letting go : T2 article dated 7th Dec'2014

It bothers me even now to see him laughing and fooling around with others. I almost feel a physical pain in my abdomen when I see him. I feel angry and suffocated..."
Supriya was talking about her ex-boyfriend who cheated on her; they broke up two years back. She has since been unable to be in a relationship or move on. She is preoccupied with what had happened in the past, and in the process she finds herself unwilling to enjoy her life. On probing further, she said that the only way she can ever be peaceful is by avenging her humiliation and " teaching him a lesson".
Our instinct for revenge has a strong evolutionary background.
When confronted by predators it was necessary for us to make the offender see or learn that attacking us was not " profitable". So we would seek revenge, often at the cost of sacrificing our own lives to serve the greater good of the herd.
Revenge, retribution, retaliation have an underlying agenda of "teaching a lesson". This instinct of revenge may have helped deter predators and offenders within or outside the tribe from committing repeated acts of aggression against our ancestors.
Research in some primates shows that in a group, the offender is likely to get severely punished in order to make its members rule- abiding. Similarly, revenge may have evolved as a teaching tool owing to its ability to teach that crime, offence or wrong- doing does not pay.
So, is it possible for Supriya to overcome this vengeful bitterness, regret and hurt? Is it possible for her to let go of this responsibility of teaching her ex a lesson at the cost of sacrificing her own life? Can she choose to forgive her ex- boyfriend? Forgiveness doesn't mean condoning an act of offence. In fact, it often involves taking a strong stand against it. Forgiveness does include letting go of the feeling of retaliation and retribution in the personal space.
Innumerable studies have been published suggesting the long- term health and relationship benefits of forgiveness. In contrast, unforgivingness can take its toll on physical, mental and relational health.
Contrary to popular belief, it has been found that people who are forgiving in interpersonal relationships are better able to uphold justice.
Evidence showed that friendly behaviour is actually quite common after an aggressive conflict between chimpanzees. Frans de Waal, an evolutionary biologist, and his team of researchers observed 350 aggressive encounters in chimpanzees and found 179 in numbers or 51 per cent of the total observed encounters were followed by friendly contact. There was more friendly contact after conflict than it was during conflict- free periods. Chimps kiss and make up in the same way as humans. It turns out that as we are hardwired to be motivated to seek revenge so are we to forgive and reconcile. In fact newer evolutionary evidence suggests that empathy, compassion and reconciliation are what gave us the edge in the evolutionary process.
In group workshops for emotional healing and personal development or individual therapeutic set- ups, we've observed that one of the most common reasons why people are bitter and unhappy in life is because they hold on to past grudges, be it against parents, friends, partners, business associates, relatives and in some cases life itself. It is sometimes very crucial to reset our mental set- up and choose to let go and forgive. The challenges people face in doing so are...

Willingness to forgive:

It is not that people are unable to forgive, but they are so driven by the motivation of " teaching a lesson" that they are unwilling to do so. If one understands that forgiveness does not mean agreement with or approval of the act of offence, people can choose to set themselves free from the hurt and bitterness.

Perception of forgiveness:

Contrary to the evolutionary evidence, people are often culturally conditioned to see forgiveness as an act of weakness. " Come what may, I am never going to forgive him/ her" is the common sentiment. In fact, people hold on to the grudge and pain as a reminder to this resolution at the cost of great personal suffering and sacrifice.

If one chooses to, forgiveness can be learnt and one can choose to release the past hurt and trauma and be open to receiving more from life.
Supriya attended one of our workshops and came for a couple of follow- up sessions where we helped her with the forgiveness process and reconciliation of the past. She is now in a happy, fulfilling relationship.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com