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Soda Consumption Connected to Behavioural Problems in Children A new study of 2,929 5-year-old children has found a link between consuming sodas and bad behaviour.→ Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick"
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What Gets in the Way of Gratitude? A recent workshop sponsored by the the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley showcased the newest and hottest findings in the science and practice of gratitude. Impressive as the advances were, not one speaker (myself included) grappled with what may be the single biggest question that stands in the way of making the basic science useful for practical applications: What must be overcome as a culture or as individuals in order for gratitude flourish? We live in a nation where everyone is on the pursuit of happiness. Each individual has his or her own path this journey takes. For some, the search begins in books; for others it comes through service. But perhaps the most popular form of seeking happiness is through the accumulation of “things.” Materialism, though, is bought at a cost. A society that feels entitled to what it receives does not adequately express gratitude. Seen through the lens of buying and selling, relationships as well as things are viewed as disposable, and gratitude cannot survive this materialistic onslaught. The lack of gratitude is contagious, and is passed from one generation to the next. Conversely, the act of gratitude is also viral and has been found to greatly and positively influence not just relationships, but one’s own emotional status. Research has proven that gratitude is essential for happiness, but modern times have regressed gratitude into a mere feeling instead of retaining its historic value, a virtue that leads to action. Just as great philosophers such as Cicero and Seneca conclude in their writings, gratitude is an action of returning a favor and is not just a sentiment. By the same token, ingratitude is the failure to both acknowledge receiving a favor and refusing to return or repay the favor. Just as gratitude is the queen of the virtues, ingratitude is the king of the vices. Given its magnetic appeal, it is a wonder that gratitude might be rejected. Yet it is. If we fail to choose it, by default we choose ingratitude. Millions make this choice every day. Why? Provision, whether supernatural or natural, becomes so commonplace that it is easily accepted for granted.  We believe the universe owes us a living. We do not want to be beholden. Losing sight of protection, favors, benefits and blessings renders a person spiritually and morally bankrupt.  It’d be hard to improve upon the words of our 16th President in 1863: We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation ever has grown; but we have forgotten God! We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Saying “no thanks” to gratitude Perhaps the most famous instance of ingratitude in history is found in the New Testament gospel of Luke. Jesus heals ten lepers of their physical disease and in so doing of their social stigma. Pronounced clean of their contagious condition and no longer social outcasts, they get their old lives back. Being brought back from near death, you’d think they’d be overwhelmingly grateful, right?  Yet only one returned to express thanksgiving for being healed.  Knowing full well that only one would come back thankful Jesus asked, Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? And then he said to them, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’ (Luke 17: 16 -18) Biblical scholars of this passage agree that by “faith,” what Jesus really meant was thankfulness, as in, “Your gratitude has made you well.” The parable reminds us of just how common ingratitude is and how easy it is to take blessings for granted, and how gratitude is dependent upon unmerited favors. Were the others ungrateful? Perhaps they were just forgetful. After all, given back their dignity, they were no doubt in a hurry to return to their families and old lives. Contemporary research, though, paints a more complicated picture of ingratitude. People who are ungrateful tend to be characterized by an excessive sense of self-importance, arrogance, vanity, and an unquenchable need for admiration and approval. Narcissists reject the ties that bind people into relationships of reciprocity. They expect special favors and feel no need to pay back or pay forward. Given this constellation of characteristics, being grateful in any meaningful way is beyond the capacity of most narcissists. Without empathy, they cannot appreciate an altruistic gift because they cannot identify with the mental state of the gift-giver. Narcissism is a spiritual blindness; it is a refusal to acknowledge that one has been the recipient of benefits freely bestowed by others. A preoccupation with the self can cause us to forget our benefits and our benefactors, or to feel that we are owed things from others and therefore have no reason to feel thankful. Entitlement is at the core of narcissism. This attitude says, “Life owes me something” or “People owe me something” or “I deserve this.” In all its manifestations, a preoccupation with the self can cause us to forget our benefits and our benefactors or to feel that we are owed things from others and therefore have no reason to feel thankful. Entitlement and self-absorption are massive impediments to gratitude. You will certainly not feel grateful when you do receive what you think you have coming, because after all, you have it coming. Counting blessings will be ineffective because grievances will always outnumber gifts. Were narcissistic entitlement a condition that afflicted only a small percentage of humankind, then there would be little cause for concern. Indeed, psychiatrists estimate that only one percent of the general population meets the clinical criteria for narcissistic disorders. However, narcissistic characteristics are found in all individuals in varying degrees. Early childhood is marked by egocentrism, the inability to take another’s perspective. This preoccupation with one’s own internal world is a normal stage of human development. Over time, most of us evolve out of this restricted perceptual lens. However those who continue to see the world primarily from the inside out slide down the slope from ordinary egocentrism to entitled narcissism. The truest approach to life Is there an antidote to ingratitude? Gratitude is often prescribed as the remedy for the exaggerated deservingness that marks narcissistic entitlement. But what enables gratitude in the first place? According to Mark T. Mitchell, professor of political science at Patrick Henry College in Virginia: Gratitude is born of humility, for it acknowledges the giftedness of the creation and the benevolence of the Creator. This recognition gives birth to acts marked by attention and responsibility. Ingratitude, on the other hand, is marked by hubris, which denies the gift, and this always leads to inattention, irresponsibility, and abuse. In gratitude and humility we turn to realities outside of ourselves. We become aware of our limitations and our need to rely on others. In gratitude and humility, we acknowledge the myth of self-sufficiency. We look upward and outward to the sources that sustain us. Becoming aware of realities greater than ourselves shields us from the illusion of being self-made, being here on this planet by right—expecting everything and owing nothing. The humble person says that life is a gift to be grateful for, not a right to be claimed. Humility ushers in a grateful response to life. Humility is a key to gratitude because living humbly is the truest approach to life. Humble people are grounded in the truth that they need others. We all do. We are not self-sufficient. We did not create ourselves. We depend on parents, friends, our pets, God, the universe and yes, even the government, to provide what we cannot provide for ourselves. Seeing with grateful eyes requires that we see the web of interconnection in which we alternate between being givers and receivers. The humble person says that life is a gift to be grateful for, not a right to be claimed. Humility is profoundly countercultural. It does not come easily or naturally, particularly in a culture that values self-aggrandizement. It requires the sustained focus on others rather than self, or as the Jewish proverb states, humility is limiting oneself to an appropriate space while leaving room for others. Thinking about oneself is natural; humility is unnatural. Perhaps this is why gratitude is counterintuitive. It goes against our natural inclinations. We want to take credit for the good that we encounter. This self-serving bias is the adult derivative of childhood egocentricity. Reigning in entitlement and embracing gratitude and humility is spiritually and psychologically liberating. Gratitude is the recognition that life owes me nothing and all the good I have is a gift. It is not a getting of what we are entitled to. My eyes are a gift. So is my wife, my freedom, my job, and my every breath. Recognizing that everything good in life is ultimately a gift is a fundamental truth of reality. Humility makes that recognition possible. The humble person says, “How can I not be filled with overflowing gratitude for all the good in my life that I’ve done nothing to merit?” The realization that all is gift is freeing, and freedom is the very foundation upon which gratitude is based. True gifts are freely given, and require no response. Jesus was free to withhold the gift of healing and he did not demand the other nine who were healed return to express gratitude. The one who did return exercised his freedom as well. Gratitude sets us free. This essay originally appeared in Big Questions Online, which aims to explore Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality and to foster thoughtful discussion of those topics. Please leave a comment there on this essay!
For Better or Worse, Siblings Shape Our Close Relationships Siblings represent our longest and, in many cases, closest family relationships. As children, siblings develop conflict styles ranging from constructive to dysfunctional. Given their formative roles in our lives, we might expect these conflict styles to carry over to adulthood. New research shows just how closely these relationship patterns are linked. read more
Depression 'makes us biologically older' Study shows that depression can make us physically older by speeding up the aging process in our cells.
Scared of Spiders? 5 Psychological Insights Into Arachnophobia Up to 50% of women and 18% of men suffer from arachnophobia.→ Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick"
Conscientious people more likely to provide good customer service Conscientious people are more likely to provide good customer service, according to a new study.
Aerobic exercise improves memory, brain function, physical fitness A new study found that engaging in a physical exercise regimen helps healthy aging adults improve their memory, brain health and physical fitness.
A longitudinal study of grapheme-color synesthesia in childhood In the first long-term study on grapheme-color synesthesia, researchers followed 80 children, including 8 synesthetes, to determine when and how associations between graphemes and colors develop.
Traumatic incident can skew people's perceptions for years, researchers find Passengers on Air Transat flight 236 that almost crashed paid more attention to words such as 'runway' than control groupTests on passengers who escaped death when their plane ran out of fuel over the Atlantic have shown how a single traumatic incident can skew people's perceptions for years after an event.Researchers in Canada studied passengers who flew on Air Transat flight 236, which suffered a catastrophic fuel leak as it crossed the Atlantic from Toronto to Lisbon in 2001. After both engines failed, the pilots put the plane into a glide for more than 100 miles and touched down safely with 306 people on board at a military base in the Azores.One of the passengers was Margaret McKinnon, a researcher at McMaster University in Ontario. Eight years after the incident, she recruited 14 others who were on the ill-fated flight to take part in a study to investigate the psychological impact of the near-disaster.In the study, the former passengers sat in front of a computer which flashed up a series of words, each appearing for just 100 milliseconds in quick succession. At the end of each session, the person taking part had to type out a string of numbers that had appeared between two of the words, such as 222222, and then the one word in the series that appeared in a different colour to the rest.When the passengers and a group of age-matched controls sat the test the first time, the computer flashed up a series of neutral words, such as "upholstery", "beatification" and "demographics" with common emotionally charged words interspersed, such as "disaster", "blood" and "horror". As expected, all of the participants paid more attention to the emotionally charged words, and so scored highly when asked to remember them at the end of each session.But in a second round of tests, the scientists interleaved words that had no special meaning for the control group, but were associated with the airline incident, such as "Atlantic", "runway", "stewardess" and "Transat". When the former passengers sat the test, they scored five to 10 percentage points higher than the control group, because the words were emotive to them and they paid more attention.The results showed that nearly a decade after the near-disaster, key words linked to the disaster were still highly emotive for the passengers, even when they appeared for only 100 milliseconds. For them, words that reminded them of the flight were as emotionally charged as the words "horror" and "disaster" were for those in the control group."This shows that a singular, emotionally traumatic experience can result in enduring changes in our perceptual experience," said Daniel Lee at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego.NeurosciencePsychologyCanadaIan Sampletheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds