The Importance of Gratitude

By Hari Srinivasan

As the name suggests, Thanksgiving is a time when our minds turn towards gratitude and giving thanks. But what exactly is gratitude? The 18th century philosopher and economist, Adam Smith, believed gratitude to be the social glue of economic culture and that, for a society to be healthy, the members must be closely linked. Gratitude strengthens relationships and connects us to the outside world.

In her book, The How of Happiness, American psychologist, Sonja Lyubomirsky lists “expressing gratitude” as happiness activity number one. She says most people associate gratitude with saying “thanks” to someone but gratitude is actually much more - wonder, appreciation, looking at the bright side, fathoming abundance, present-oriented, not taking things for granted, coping and counting blessings.

In an article for the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, Robert Emmons, the world’s leading researcher on gratitude, explains that the benefits of gratitude span the physical, psychological and social realms. It magnifies positive emotions, blocks negative emotions, makes you more stress resistant and contributes to a higher sense of self-worth. But what is most striking, according to Emmons, are the social “relationship-strengthening” benefits. Various studies have demonstrated that people who practice gratitude are more helpful and compassionate towards others. He also urges us to think outside the box when it comes to what is considered gratitude.

Emmons points out that practicing gratitude is not easy as it can mean we feel we are less in control or that we are giving away credit due to us to others. He suggests two simple activities to get started.

  1. Start a gratitude journal and, once a week, list five things that you’re grateful for

  2. Count your blessings on a regular basis, maybe once a day

In this time of a global pandemic and untidy political landscape, it is all the more important that we practice gratitude. We can, as Mother Theresa once said, be grateful for what we can give rather than for what we receive.

In the spirit of practicing gratitude, the NeuroNav team shares what they’re grateful for:

Kim Schreiber - “I’m grateful for the amazing, talented, passionate, neurodiverse team that I have the honor to work with every day and for the opportunity that we have to help so many awesome people, like my little brother, to live with hope, joy and choice.”

Sabrina Kappe Ramos - “This year I am grateful for my family, including my new husband. They have always been such a huge anchoring force in my life, and they have been that and more in these unpredictable times. And while it’s been hard not to see many of them in person, our weekly Zoom calls have become my favorite weekend activity, and one that I hope we will continue even as things find their way back to ‘normal’.”

Emma Chen - “I am most grateful for the health of my family, especially my father who works at a hospital as a physician. I am also grateful for my husky who keeps me smiling.”

Nick Garcia - “Even though I could not have expected how this year has turned out, I am very grateful for the friends and family I hold near and dear to my heart. They have supported me in the ups and downs of this time and I love them very much.”

Rachel Braun - “I am grateful for new opportunities and the great people in my life.”

Katie Sharp - "I’m grateful for my friends, family, and my health. In a time that could be very isolating (and has been for many), I’ve been able to stay connected (virtually and socially distanced) to the people who I care most about. I think that has really helped me stay sane (ish!) throughout the pandemic.”

Hari Srinivasan - “I’m constantly grateful to the various people at different points in my life who have supported me in many ways. I’m grateful to God, for my talents and my intelligence which was not something taught or learned during my many years in special education. I’m grateful to everyone at UC Berkeley for providing a supportive environment that helps me pursue my desire for a college education, an aspiration that cannot be taken for granted for people with significant disabilities like me. I’m grateful to my family for their never give up attitude towards me and especially in this time of covid which has been difficult for me. And I’m grateful that I too am able to contribute back to society in whatever small way I can.”

Take a moment now to think about what you are thankful for and the people that have been your supports along the way. Take a moment to also reflect on ways you can practice gratitude now and in the future.

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