Focus on EQ: Optimism, Gratitude, and Technology

November 25, 2011

Focus on EQ: Optimism, Gratitude, and Technology

Focus on EQ: Gratitude, Optimism, and Technology. In this holiday season, thoughts naturally turn to expressions of gratitude.  Gratitude, it turns out, is one idea that’s also part of a larger movement called Positive Psychology, whose practitioners study health promoting behavior and choices people can make to feel happier. Emmons, a researcher at the University of California and one of the pioneers in gratitude research, studied how focusing on gratitude helps us to feel better, be more optimistic about the future, and have fewer health problems. Emmons wrote that those who practice gratitude "reap emotional, physical and interpersonal benefits." In the Six Seconds model of Emotional Intelligence (www.6seconds.org), three pursuits: Know Yourself, Choose Yourself, and Give Yourself help us use our thoughts and feelings together to deepen our relationships and make optimal decisions.  Making an intentional choice to be grateful and optimistic is part of the Choose Yourself pursuit.  It confirms that we do have a Choice about how we “show” up in the world and relate with the people in our lives. In the Know Yourself pursuit, we become  aware of our emotions and recognize our patterns. In the Choose Yourself pursuit, we can choose our feelings, our thoughts, and actions more purposefully and experiment with different ways of connecting with others. We can practice comfortably and authentically giving and receiving gratitude. Gratitude and Optimism The gratitude research suggests that people can improve their “set point” of optimism, by practicing gratitude.  Reflecting on whom we appreciate and what we are grateful for is not only a meaningful way to end each day but also keeps us healthy and happy. Here’s a summary of finding from Emmons’ UCDavis Gratitude Lab:
    • In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).

    • A related benefit was observed in the realm of personal goal attainment: Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.

    • A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others). There was no difference in levels of unpleasant emotions reported in the three groups.

    • Participants in the daily gratitude condition were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another, relative to the hassles or social comparison condition.

    • In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one’s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group.

    • Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families (Froh, Sefick, & Emmons, 2008).

Grateful for technology? So, my friend Glen, who lives in a distant Canadian province, and I, in Arizona, were talking on Skype the other day about technology and how, counterintuitively some might say, we were grateful for technology for allowing us to connect with each other and with others in a myriad of ways, from email to text chats to various social networks including virtual worlds.   I told Glen that many of my 6th grade classmates had recently reconnected by email and were actively sharing memories about our early school years together. I have found it extremely rewarding to renew acquaintances with my oldest childhood friends in this way, and I’m grateful for the technology that has allowed it. Moreover,  I’m grateful for technology that allows me to connect in meaningful ways with family members who live across the country, and with friends and colleagues around the world. My life is continually enriched by my connections with people near and far. Is technology sometimes challenging and overwhelming? Does it sometimes feel that “it” is control of us, and not the other way around? Sure! However, as the learning philosophy at Six Seconds, suggests,  “The Wisdom Lies Within,” so one may choose to engage with technology, in whatever way is most personally gratifying and "No Way is The Way"--it's what works for you. Glen is an expert on social networks so I invited him to contribute to this post on the topic of gratitude and social networks. Here is what he said: Social media and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) are having profound effects on our lives and society. While some rightly caution against the potential for dehumanization, many technological developments promise a richer and more meaningful, more human existence. I recently read the fascinating book Alone Together by Sheri Turkel who described some of the reasons that people are drawn to online social networks. She talks about the way that people use social media to resolve many personal and social concerns such as the desire for intimacy and a sense of purpose and connectedness. One of the phenomena that she describes is ambient sociability, the way people sometimes like to be around others but not necessarily personally engaged with anyone. Another recent book describes the way that people maintain a social connection by playing asynchronous online games.  In Reality is Broken; Why games make us better and how they can change the world,  Jane McGonigal discusses the vastly popular Facebook games Farmville and Lexulous. I thought about my mother and the numerous running games of Lexulous she has on the go with her sisters and her daughters (my sisters). They visit in person when they can and speak on the phone or by video Skype fairly regularly but they have a running game of Lexulous going at all times that extends over days and weeks. Each move is accompanied by small messages of encouragement (sometimes gloating) that keeps a sense of presence going. Just like a smile or handshake offered by a friend or stranger in an everyday encounter, a social media smile or handshake can touch us, lifting spirits and making us feel like part of a family, part of a community. All this makes me grateful for the social media technology that makes it so easy to keep in touch with loved ones. “Reach out and touch someone’” was the advertising jingle for a local telephone company. At a holiday time of year when many are getting together to celebrate and enjoy loving company we can be grateful for technology that connects us to distant love ones who can not share a physical space. Sharing a virtual space beats a lonely holiday experience. Time for a Gratitude Visit!
Dr. Martin Seligmann, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and former president of the American Psychological Association, is the founder of the Positive Psychology movement. He created a tool called the Gratitude Visit.
Here's what you do:
  • Think of a person in your life who has been kind to you but whom you've never properly thanked.
  • Write a detailed ''gratitude letter'' to that person, sharing very specifically why you're grateful to him or her.
  • The next step involves visiting that person and reading the letter out loud. In the age of technology, sometimes face2face visits aren’t possible. What’s the next best thing?
Email can take the place of a paper letter, and Video Skype can be a great way to see each other, as you read your letter. According to Seligman, the ritual is powerful. ''Everyone cries when you do a gratitude visit,'' he says. ''It's very moving for both people.'   Keep a Gratitude Journal. If keeping a gratitude journal interests you, guess what? There’s an app for that. Glen Gatin Ed.D. is an educator specializing in the adoption of ICT and social media for teaching and learning. He teaches online graduate classes for Brandon University and Northcentral University. Glen operates a consulting company which provides education services in web-fitting, program design and implementation, and policy analysis.




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