The Art of Gratitude

The Art of Gratitude

Shortly after being hired by Equinox Fitness in 2004, the manager at one New York City club called a meeting for movement instructors of every discipline. Gathered one afternoon in the 19th St gym, he discussed the our psychological patterns while leading classes.


Say you have 50 people in the studio, and 49 of them are having the class of their lives. They’re moving with you, fully engaged—they’re just in it. And you have one person in the corner who’s not paying attention, looking outside the room, not totally in it. And your mind keeps focusing on that one person. 

It was one of those moments where I thought, ‘So I’m not the only one?’ Everyone in the room laughed in acknowledgement. Oddly, that’s how our brains often work: we focus on the one little thing not perfect in the corner instead of devoting attention to all that’s going right.

Gratitude is a discipline, one that can be challenging to instill. There’s an evolutionary reason to focus on what’s not right, and a good one at that: one false move can end in our demise. The anxiety of our ancestors was much greater than ours today and still we seem unable to control those nasty spikes in cortisol. While it turns out there’s evolutionary value in that too, for the most part, we fall victim to focusing on what's not exactly what we wanted it to be.

In Hardwiring Happiness, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson found that people who meditate on gratitude rewire neural pathways to strengthen their connection to this emotion. Over time, this synaptic plasticity changes your reactions situations, making you grateful instead of recoiling or lashing out when confronted with challenging emotional content.

In over eight years of research, Dr. Robert Emmons at the University of California, Davis found having an ‘attitude of gratitude’ improves emotional and physical health, as well as strengthens relationships and communities. One of his studies revealed that people who kept a gratitude journal exercised more frequently, reported fewer physical symptoms of pain and were more optimistic about the upcoming week, compared to those who kept journals that were either neutral or that allowed them to complain. He also found that those who kept gratitude lists made greater strides in progressing towards personal goals over a two-month period.

In another study Emmons conducted with young adults practicing daily gratitude exercises, those who partook reported higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to the control group, who were either told to focus on downward social comparisons or that they were better off than others.

One key of understanding how gratitude works resides in forgetting about the popular notion that our thoughts influence reality beyond our means. Formerly called sympathetic magic, Barbara Ehrenreich writes about this phenomenon that The Secret among others popularized,

Thoughts are not objects with mass; they are patterns of neuronal firing within the brain…if they were exerting some sort of gravitational force on material objects around them, it would be difficult to take off one’s hat.

Focusing on gratitude during meditation (and subsequently in our lives) changes our outlook on life, not life itself. This is what helps making it through the day more pleasant, what makes even daunting tasks seem accomplishable. This is not to deny problems we may have in our lives; it’s simply disciplining ourselves to not devote mental energy towards them when unnecessary.

Techniques like gratitude meditations and journaling help us reorient the way we move about the world—more appreciative, less bogged in misery. This form of meditation has also been shown to weaken the ‘me’ system in our brains, giving us more time to react to situations.

Our triggers do not magically disappear. We are just able to slow down the time between action and reaction, much like Neo in The Matrix observing bullets in slow motion. At such a speed, we have the ability to decide how to react, instead of feeling the fight and flight reaction rise in a split second. Over time, this changes not only our reactions, but our actions as well. That’s when our world really has an opportunity to change for the better.

Image: travellight/shutterstock.com

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China has reached a new record for nuclear fusion at 120 million degrees Celsius.

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This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.

But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.

Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.

Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.

According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.

The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.

But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.

Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.

Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.

We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.

Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).

With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.

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