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Enhance Happiness and Health by Cultivating Gratitude: Interview with Robert Emmons

Robert Emmons Thanks(Dear reader: Here you have a little gift to continue the Thanksgiving spirit. Enjoy the interview, and thank you for visiting our site.)

Prof. Robert Emmons studies gratitude for a living as Professor of Psychology at UC Davis and is Editor-In-Chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology. He has just published Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, an interdisciplinary book that provides a research-based synthesis of the topic as well as practical suggestions.

Alvaro Fernandez: Welcome. Prof. Emmons, could you please provide us an overview of the Positive Psychology field so we understand the context for your research?

Robert Emmons: Sure. Martin Seligman and colleagues launched what was called “positive psychology in the late 90s as an antidote to the traditional nearly exclusive emphasis of “negative psychology” focused on fixing problems like trauma, addiction, and stress. We want to balance our focus and be able to help everyone, including high-functioning individuals. A number of researchers were investigating the field since the late 80s, but Seligman provided a new umbrella, a new category, with credibility, organized networks and funding opportunities for the whole field.

And where does your own research fit into this overall picture?

I have been researching gratitude for almost 10 years. Gratitude is a positive emotion that has traditionally been the realm of humanists and philosophers, and only recently the subject of a more scientific approach. We study gratitude not as a merely academic discipline, but as a practical framework to better functioning in life by taking control of happiness levels and practicing the skill of emotional self-regulation.

What are the 3 key messages that you would like readers to take away from your book?

First, the practice of gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25%. Second, this is not hard to achieve – a few hours writing a gratitude journal over 3 weeks can create an effect that lasts 6 months if not more. Third, that cultivating gratitude brings other health effects, such as longer and better quality sleep time.

What are some ways to practice gratitude, and what benefits could we expect? Please refer to your 2003 paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, where I found fascinating quotes such as that “The ability to notice, appreciate, and savior the elements of one life has been viewed as a crucial element of well-being.

The most common method we use in our research is to ask people to keep a “Gratitude Journal”  where you write something you feel grateful for. Doing so 4 times a week, for as little as 3 weeks, is often enough to create a meaningful difference in one level of happiness. Another exercise is to write a “Gratitude Letter” to a person who has exerted a positive influence on one’s life but whom we have not properly thanked in the past, and then to meet that person and read the letter to them face to face.

The benefits seem to be very similar using both methods in terms of enhanced happiness, health and wellbeing. Most of the outcomes are self-reported, but there is an increasing emphasis on measuring objective data such as cortisol and stress levels, heart rate variability, and even brain activation patterns. The work of Richard Davidson is exemplary in that respect, showing how mindfulness practice can rewire some activation patterns in Read the rest of this entry »

Sharpen Your Wits With This Special Offer!

We are offering a limited-time deal for the rest of February 2007.

You will get Brain Fitness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 QuestionsBrain Fitness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Questions included for free! (an $11.95 savings!)

Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg and Alvaro Fernandez answer in plain English the most common questions around why and how to exercise our brains.

…when you buy any of the following brain exercise programs:

Exercise Your Brain: New Brain Research and Implications

Exercise Your Brain: New Brain Research and Implications DVD

This one-hour and 20 minute class introduces you to the science of brain fitness and includes many engaging brain exercises you can do on your own or in a group setting. You will learn about basic neuroanatomy and physiology, as well as hear about the groundbreaking publications that launched this field. Then, get you will practice how to exercise your own brain and flex all your mental muscles. Perfect introduction to Brain Fitness!
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Brain Training and SharpBrains in the news

Several recent stories on brain training and SharpBrains:

1) New brain games may improve mind fitness by Kevin Kosterman (U of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s Advance-Titan)

“Anytime we learn, we are training, changing, our brain,” Fernandez said. “The three key core elements for effective brain exercise are novelty, variety and constant challenge, similar to increasing the level in machines we find in gyms.”

2) “Training the Brain as possible as Training the Body”, جريدة النهار by Hanadi El Diri (Annahar, one of the most prestigious papers in the Middle East. The text is in Arabic.)

3) “Train your brain” by Mark Muckenfuss (The Press-Enterprise in Riverside and San Bernardino)

“We cannot promise to people you will only keep getting better until you are 200 years old. But I think people still underestimate how flexible the brain really is.”

The SmartBrains [sic] program combines mental exercises with a stress reduction program. Too much stress, says Fernandez, has been shown to be damaging not only to performance, but to the brain itself.
With all of the available programs for stimulating the brain, he says, it is important to shop carefully. A critical element, he says, is how clients or participants are evaluated.

“Make sure they have a credible assessment that helps you find your strengths and weaknesses and that they have programs that address (those areas),” he says. “Assessments that give you 50 (as an age-equivalent grade) and a week later you’re 32, that’s not a valuable assessment.”

Brain Health Newsletter, February Edition, and Brain Awareness Week

We hope you are enjoying the growing coverage of Brain Fitness as much as we are. Below you have the Brain Fitness Newsletter we sent a few days ago-you can subscribe to this monthly email update in the box on the right hand side.

In this post, we will briefly cover:

I. Press: see what CBS and Time Magazine are talking about. SharpBrains was introduced in the Birmingham News, Chicago Tribune and in a quick note carried by the American Psychological Association news service.

II. Events: we are outreach partners for the Learning & the Brain conference, which will gather neuroscientists and educators, and for the Dana Foundation’s Brain Awareness Week.

III. Program Reviews: The Wall Street Journal reviewed six different programs for brain exercise and aging, and the one we offer is one of the two winners. A college-level counseling center starts offering our stress management one. And we interview a Notre Dame scientist who has conducted a replication study for the working memory training program for kids with ADD/ ADHD.

IV. New Offerings: we have started to offer two information packages that can be very useful for people who want to better understand this field before they commit to any particular program: learn more about our Brain Fitness 101 guide and Exercise Your Brain DVD.

V. Website and Blog Summary: we revamped our home page and have had a very busy month writing many good articles. We also hosted two “Blog Carnivals”- don’t you want to know what that means?
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Brain Fitness Programs, “Brain Gyms”…Explained

SharpBrains Vision
Thanks to MindHacks for the link to a good Washington Post article, “Pumping Neurons”.

A couple of quotes:

Recent research shows that the brain remains plastic, or basically trainable, throughout life. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2002, significant percentages of the 2,802 participants age 65 and older who trained for five weeks for about 2 1/2 hours per week improved their memory, reasoning and information-processing speed.

When we learn, we create physical changes inside our heads. By practicing a skill, we repeatedly stimulate the same area of the brain, which strengthens existing neural connections and creates new ones. Over time, we can become more cognitively efficient, using fewer neurons to do the same job. And the more often we fire up certain mental circuits, the easier it is to get them going again.

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