Neuroplasticity and Gratitude

Thanksgiving 2013 mmc

I was never much of a fan of talk about the biological bases of behavior.  Already in the mid 80’s, there were innovative graduate programs popping up to explore brain-based treatments more nuanced than conventional treatments like ECT, Labotomy and psychotropic medication.

Nonetheless, I remained decidedly a proponent of the nurture side of things.  This bias came in large part from working with kids in schools and seeing the folly, and really the “Big Brother” danger, in any notion of changing kids from their brain chemistry out.  I knew I couldn’t get inside a child’s skull and rewire neurons. By extension, I was a warrior for preventing the abusive intrusion of anyone wishing to try.  I will never be ok with kids being subject to chemical sedation or any other neurological intervention for adults’ convenience.

However.  Yes.  However.  There really have been some amazing and, for me, astonishingly positive developments in neuropsychological research in recent years.  Today I’m thinking particularly of Dan Siegal’s work on interpersonal neuroplasticity, especially as it relates to my favorite holiday.

Thanksgiving arises from retelling of circumstances surrounding two primary acts.  Both are well known in American lore.  There was the generosity of people indigenous to the East Coast of this continent, and there was the survival of European people who ventured from their homelands to these lands with few resources and little relevant skill.  The stories can be told very badly and the euphemized racism and arrogance of the Thanksgiving tales populating my memory demand responsible criticism.

Still, for me the day remains remarkable in largest part because of its potential.  Thanksgiving arrives every year with the possibility of being reclaimed as a day simply for being grateful.

The overlap with neurology?  If Siegal is right – and his data combined with the studies replicating his findings indicate he likely is – we affect one another’s ways of knowing and being just by thinking near each other.  I leave all of that for you to check out and know I have lots more to ask and explore about this idea.

But here’s the deal.  If we do have the capacity for affecting one another by the way we think, a day of gratitude – real gratitude far away from habits of ‘me first’ thinking – can only enhance the capacity we all have for being grateful.

Great saints and sages of all time have lived and taught that gratitude is right next to kindness – both are the reliable seeds of peace and wellbeing.

Think of it.  A day of gratitude that affects how we all function – individually and collectively – toward peace and wellbeing.  There may be cynical opposition to such a thing, but from what I’ve heard around this country, peace and wellbeing are the thing.  We’d rather get along than not, and a day of real thanks, when all our neurons bathe in gratitude, sure seems a step in the right direction.

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2 Comments on “Neuroplasticity and Gratitude

  1. I am just beginning to take note of research which indicates our minds and what we think can have affect. Hopeful. Or dreadful?

    • I suppose it depends on our habits of mind. Our willingness to try on, even practice ways of thinking that leave no room for (or, at the very least, modify) routine thoughts that feeds depression, aggression, the seductive sense of being a victim. Thanks for reading, Margaret.

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