August 5, 2017
Podcast from https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2017/08/the-power-of-gratitude/
[00:00] Introduction/Go Greenfields Podcast
[05:19] About Owen Griffith
[08:13] What Is Gratitude?
[13:30] Physiological and Psychological Benefits of Gratitude
[16:54] Gratitude's Benefits For Cardiac Patients
[22:00] What Gratitude Does To The Brain
[25:20] Gratitude and Materialism
[31:22] Gratitude and Technology
[35:50] Gratitude Being Like a Muscle
[37:43] Quick Commercial Break/Kimera Koffee/Onnit
[44:09] Mindfulness, Silence, and Gratitude
[49:56] Making Gratitude A Daily Practice
[53:57] Gratitude Practices For Kids
[1:00:58] Best Resources on Gratitude
[1:06:08] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey, you guys. Welcome to the Ben Greenfield Fitness Show. I am not alone today. I actually have brought on two special guests for the intro to today's show because there is a brand new Greenfield Podcast. It is not my podcast. It is called the Go Greenfields Podcast and it is hosted by none other than the two gentleman right here in my podcasting studio with me. River, say hello.
Ben: Terran, say hello.
Ben: These are my twin nine year old boys River and Terran Greenfield. Guys, what is the name of your brand new podcast?
River: Go Greenfields.
Ben: The Go Greenfields Show. That's right. And what is it exactly that you guys are doing in this brand new show?
River: So we're right restaurant reviewing and we are reading menus, trying the foods, giving them ratings. And soon after you do that, we're going to be doing cooking tips, and then we're going to do some plant foraging to show you guys what plants are good to eat, and what plants are yummy, and what you can make food out of.
Ben: And it's amazing. We're going to all these local restaurants. So if you live in the Spokane or Coeur D'Alene area, you're going to get a lot of tips. But we've also got photos, we've got videos, and like the boys mentioned, instead of just revealing local restaurants, were making this really cool for you or for your kids because you guys are doing cooking tips, and plan forging tips, and all these things that go above and beyond just restaurant reviews. So we call it a podcast for your palate. Right, fellas?
Ben: And where can people go to learn more about your brand new podcast or to subscribe to it?
Ben: gogreenfields.com. Thanks for you, guys. Thanks so much. Now get out of my office so I can read these commercials and tell people about the rest of the show. Aren't they just the cutest little things on the face of the planet? They actually do have really really good palates. And it's an awesome show if I don't say so myself.
Anyways, today's podcast has brought you by Organifi. And Organifi is the company that you may best know as the folks who bring to the best tasting greens superfood blend in the world. But they now have this brand new stuff, it's called Red Juice, and it is, big surprise here, it's red. It's like a red version of their green stuff, but they've added acai berry, and codyceps, beet, pomegranate, all these blood building, red pigmented plants. And then they put in a bunch of metabolism boosting adaptogens like cordyceps, and Siberian ginseng, and rhodiola. So it really packs in nice little punch. It goes quite well with their green juice superfood powder if you wanted to just like make your head explode and do both into your smoothie in the morning, you could. But it's called Acai and Cordyceps-Infused Red Juice Gently Dried Superfood Powder. That's a mouthful. Anyways though, you can get this stuff at bengreenfieldfitness.com/organifi. That's bengreenfieldfitness.com/organifi and use discount code Ben to get 20% off of any order. And Organifi is spelled with an “i”, by the way. Organifi.
Hey, today's a podcast is with Owen Griffith. And Owen Griffith is a guy who has really decoded this emotion of gratitude and a whole of the different feel good hormones from oxytocin to serotonin, and dopamine that gratitude can elicit, and the idea behind gratitude for better sleep, and lower blood pressure, and decreased inflammation, and fewer aches and pains, and better relationships, and increased longevity. So I think you're really going to dig today’s show.
In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“You fill in the blank, right? ‘I'll be happy when I get rich, or when I just get that promotion.' Or for some people, it's when I get that perfect woman in my life. And then some people at the other end, I'll be happy when I get rid of that person my life. I mean it's crazy what people think they need to make them happy.” “Along with the gratitude journal, they have people write a gratitude letter. When they think about somebody in their lives, a teacher, or a relative, somebody you haven't thanked properly and put some thought into it, and write it, and deliver it, they found that months down the road, they were still experiencing some of them to the physiological and psychological benefits from this.”
Ben: Hey, folks. It’s Ben Greenfield and I got to tell you, there is one emotion I guess you'd call it above all that elicits a release of the powerful feel good hormone oxytocin along with serotonin, dopamine, and gives you better sleep, and lower blood pressure, and decreased inflammation, and fewer aches and pains, better relationships, increased longevity. I mean the list goes on and on, and my guest on today's podcast actually specializes in teaching that particular emotion, as well as how to implement it, and how to practice it, and strategies and tactics for how to grow it particularly to the educational sector like for teachers, and educators, and children. But he's a wealth of knowledge on this particular motion just for anybody listening in, even if you're not like a teacher or an educator. His name's Owen Griffith. And Owen actually taught as an elementary educator for over a decade, and then he wrote this book. And I recently read it, it's a fantastic little book. It's called “Gratitude: A Way of Teaching“. It filled me with a whole bunch of ideas about how I can teach my own kids how to be more grateful and how to tap into all these physical, and physiological, and mental benefits of gratitude.
And what I like about it is it's grounded in scientific research, it delves into numerous integral aspects of gratitude as it relates to education, and child rearing, and personal development, and beyond. And you learn a lot of cool things in it, like how to combat materialism and entitlement with gratitude and altruism, how to use altruism for academic or career success, and how to embrace gratitude and make it really a permanent part of your life, kind of like a muscle. Owen himself is a regular contributor to Huffington Post, his work has appeared all over the place on various educational websites from Edutopia, to UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Centers Online Magazine. He has a Master's Degree in Educational Leadership and lives in Georgia, I believe. Is that right, Owen?
Owen: That's correct. In Ball Ground,Georgia, just north of Atlanta.
Ben: Cool, cool. And he's one of the world's leading experts on gratitude, so I figured he'd be the guy for us to talk about it on today's show. So Owen, welcome to the podcast, man.
Owen: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. I really appreciate that, Ben.
Ben: Yeah. For sure. And I guess like, just to jump right in, before I ask you a little bit about this this book, and how it came to be, and some of the physical benefits of gratitude and the science of gratitude that you talk about in the book, when it comes to gratitude, like it seems it's loosely defined, but how would you actually define gratitude and kind of like differentiate it between just like general positive thinking, and being nice to people, and saying thank you?
Owen: That's a great place to start there. I've really given a lot of thought to this because gratitude, a lot of people think it's just kind of a pleasant emotion that comes and goes, something you really look at for the Thanksgiving holiday. But really what I've come to see as gratitude, it's a whole way of looking at life. It's a choice you make, it's a way of interacting with the world. It's really about finding the good in yourself and others. Like you said, rigorous empirical research has shown that by really making some of these gratitude activities part of your life, you do get physiological and psychological benefits. You raise those positive neurotransmitters like you were talking about, as well as on the other end, you're decreasing those negative stress hormones like cortisol. And I like the way you said it was like a muscle too, 'cause it is something that we build up. And by finding some activity you really like, by doing it, by making it part of your life, it really does change the way you look at the world and it does reap this cascade of benefits. Where on the other hand, you talk about positive thinking, and I think people do make that mistake of thinking it's the same thing. Positive thinking for me really is like, “put on a happy face, just be uppy, you just say everything's good”. And that only goes so far. I mean that's kind of superficial. It's like everything's okay. And we know that. Even people who practice gratitude, you don't say everything's great. We know that there's challenges, we know there's hardships in life. But that positive thinking kind of goes out the window when that happens. With gratitude, there's still ways to use gratitude even when you have challenges and it's an authentic way of living life and looking at life.
Ben: Yeah. And the way that I understand it is when it comes to gratitude, it's actually realizing, or writing down, or acknowledging when you have actually received something that wasn't necessarily deserved or wasn't necessarily earned that's due to the actions of another person or another thing, like that actual perception of some positive personal outcome that's occurred to you as a direct response of something that just kind of came to you out of good karma, out of like grace or graciousness and kindness.
Owen: Oh, that's well put. I really like the way you put that because that leads right into one of the things that gratitude is most beneficial, in our relationships. Instead of saying, “Hey, I'm grateful for my wife,” I say, “I'm grateful for learning about unconditional love,” and we're celebrating 20 years of marriage. You take it to that deeper level. You're right. There's a gift you've received and you look at a cost-benefit analysis, there's some research on this where you take it, you say, “What was the sacrifice made on this person to give me this?” So you say what's behind this gift that I got. And as you would imagine, it makes you appreciate it on a whole new level, and then that person, you're more likely to connect deeper with them and be willing to reciprocate, and be able to understand them, and reach out to them, whether that's a wife, or someone in your immediate family, a colleague you work with, or that clerk at Walmart. I'll tell you, one day it really rocked my world when a woman was checking me out of Walmart, and I just looked at her and genuinely and instead of just saying, “Thank you,” I said, “Hey, I'm really grateful. I know you have a really busy day,” she looked stressed out. And she looks at me and she said, “You know this is my second job. I only do this because I'm putting my son who's in high school, I'm putting him through this tutoring so he can get into a school that I know will take care of him when he gets to college age.” So we had this little like 45 second conversation, and it gave me a whole new appreciation of someone who just checks you out at Walmart. So it kind of opens you up to the new kinds of interaction, and a new deeper appreciation of all the different people and things in our lives.
Ben: Yeah. And not that it has to be a person. Like I was riding my bicycle yesterday and I was grateful for the fact that I was able to be alive at that moment with the sunshine and the wind in my hair even though I didn't really deserve it, even though I hadn't done anything special to be that person riding my bike down the street at like 3 PM in the afternoon when everybody else was like sitting in their office in their suit and ties at work. But I had that sense of gratefulness overwhelming. And it wasn't towards any one specific person, it was just like whether you want to consider it to be the universe, or whether you want to consider it to be the creator, or God, or some circumstance that has brought you into that situation that you're in.
Simply being grateful for where you're at based on the fact that you've been given an opportunity that perhaps you didn't deserve to be where you're at is incredibly powerful and even leads to some of the things you get into in chapter one of the book, which I really like, Owen. You delve into some of the pretty surprising physical and physiological benefits that science has identified occurs when you're grateful. Can you talk about some of those things? I mean you talk about like cardiac affects, you talk about neural plasticity. I'd love to hear your thoughts on some of these things you write about in chapter one.
Owen: Oh, yeah. Thanks, Ben. And I really appreciate what you said about being grateful, let me just backtrack real quick, about just, yeah, it doesn't have to be for a person, it's where you're at. This morning I saw the sun rise, and I looked at that, just that sense of awe and gratitude, they kind of go together. So really good point there. And when we practice gratitude, it does have some really, really amazing physiological effects, like you were saying. One of the things they've found is that your white blood cells, you increase, you're building up your physiological resistance to fight disease. Cardiac patients, this is a recent one they did at the University of California San Diego where they had cardiac patients who were recovering from severe heart trauma. They had one group of them practice writing a gratitude journal on a regular basis for eight weeks and the other one not, the control group. And not only were there the psychological benefits, the people felt better about their lives, and their situation, and healing, but the physical benefits that they actually saw, there was a markedly reduced rate of heart inflammation in the people who were practicing the gratitude journal. So there's things going on here that we don't quite understand, the mechanisms, but we know it's working. So I mean that is just to me amazing. And then other things like, you're so into exercise, which I love. People who start practicing gratitude are more likely to exercise. And it kind of makes sense. If I'm feeling better about my situation in life, I'm more likely to have the energy then to get out there and do that.
Ben: And from my perspective, it's not just exercising, it's, as woo as this might sound, it's like self-love. ‘Cause I've been gratitude journaling now for almost three years, and one of the things that I found is when I, so I do it in the morning. I write down that one thing I'm grateful for every morning. And when I get up, I have this sense of positivity. And like what you showed in the research, and I think you mentioned this in the book, is people tend to go to their doctors more for check-ups, and take better care of their bodies, and exercise more. But what I find is I even go out of my way to do things like stuff I've talked about on the show before when it comes to like detoxification and more intense care of the body. Like coconut oil pulling for my teeth, when I normally wouldn't do that. Or visiting the sauna and doing things like dry skin brushing, or foam rolling, all these little things because it's like I appreciate my body more. And then you turn around, you look at the research, like this stuff that you talk about, it turns out that that's not just an anomaly. Like people who do something as simple as write down what they were grateful for each morning, they actually go to the doctor more, they take better care of their bodies. And so you get the increase in white blood cells, and you get the better sleep, and the better duration and quality of sleep, the reduction of stress hormones like cortisol, but then just this overall sense of, “Hey, I'm going to take better care of myself 'cause I'm just freaking grateful.”
Owen: Yeah. That's put so well, those healthier choices. Another one, it's easier to quit smoking. I mean people use drugs less. They make better choices all around, and yeah, there’s the quality of life, the quality of life definitely elevates.
Ben: Tell me about a cardiac medicine and what cardiac medicine has discovered when it comes to like inflammatory levels or issues with heart patients?
Owen: Yeah, it was interesting. When they did that cell, to drill down a little deeper into what they found is they found that there was a reduced circulating level of the inflammatory biomarkers IL-6 and STNFR-1, and those are associated with a cardiovascular disease. So they're seeing these physiological benefits of the cardiac patients who are practicing their gratitude journal. And that kind of thing, they found it on two levels. Not only was there physically their hearts were in better shape, but then they felt better about where they were, they felt better about their recovery. You can imagine, if someone's suffered severe heart attack or they're suffering some kind of disease like that, it could be really depressing, it could really put you in a place where it will be hard to resume your activity or get back into things. So this is one of those instances where, at first a lot of people say gratitude doesn't really go with cardiac patients, but then you see how it is applicable, and just about everywhere in life I've seen where people are trying to apply gratitude, this is a little bit off tangent, but this was just so amazing. I was at a conference in San Francisco a couple months ago for teachers and there were thousands of people there, and I presented about using gratitude in the classroom, how right now we're having an epidemic of teacher burnout, we have so many great educators leaving.
So I'm talking about this, and a guy comes up to me after my little talk, and he said, “I love what you're saying here, but I'm a teacher and I go into the local prison here. I'm teaching adults who are in prison and I want to know, will gratitude works for prisoners?” And so that really kind of took me back. I thought, “Well, let me think about this.” And I thought, “Yeah, let me consult some experts.” So Dr. Froh, who's one of the big experts who wrote a book called “Making Grateful Children”, talked to him, looked up some research, and we were able to put together a little program for this teacher and it's working. Amazingly, these prisoners who are, as they're learning from this teacher, they're practicing gratitude, and they're finding less recidivism and they're doing better in their studies. And so, I'm just amazed with all the ways that I see gratitude being applied and how successful it really works.
Ben: Yeah, the other interesting thing that I noted that you discussed in the book was this concept of neuroplasticity, how the brain has the ability to alter and reshape its structure. I don't know if you saw this study, but they actually did one particular study in terms of how gratitude actually rewires your brain where they studied certain areas of the brain responsible for identifying how other people are feeling or other people's emotions, basic empathy. And there's this part of the brain called the pregenual anterior cingulate, and they found that when people were grateful, or had like a daily gratitude practice, this area of their brain actually anatomically changed. There's actually this neurological location in the brain where gratitude resides, and what happened was these people became better and better able to identify with others around them. Like when you see someone and you can sense that, “Oh, they're sad,” or, “They're happy,” or, “They're angry.” Like people who do a daily gratitude practice for some reason, based on brain scans, they actually change their brain to the level where they're able to empathize better with other members of the human race, which I thought was super interesting.
Owen: That is. Now that's really intriguing. I didn't see that particular study, but I've seen one similar to that and they talk about, along with that, your empathy, and then your altruism, your motivation to help others and really make gratitude an action. You mentioned rewiring the brain, Dr. Rick Hanson has a great book called “How To Rewire Your Brain For Happiness”, and it's really a fantastic book 'cause he talks so much about gratitude and how the way this works is every time I take action, I write a gratitude list, or I take time to tell somebody I'm grateful for them, or I do gratitude art, whatever activity is, I’m making those connections in the brain stronger and, like you said, actually making parts of it bigger, which is amazing. And I'm so glad that now the technology is able to back up what kind intuitively we've known for years.
Ben: Yeah. I want to ask you a little bit about the practical aspects of gratitude, but other things I was curious about, brain hormones or neurotransmitters, like serotonin, or dopamine, or these neuropeptides like oxytocin for example, what exactly is going on when it comes to gratitude and the brain, or the mental outlook?
Owen: Well the parts of the brain, like you said that are activated are going to stimulate that. And on the other end, like we were mentioning, reduce the negative thing. So we're actually kicking in some mechanisms that are going to help produce the positive neurotransmitters and reduce those negative ones. And as brain research neuroscientists are getting more into, that they are able to articulate the actual mechanisms that are going on there. And that's one of the most exciting things about this is that new research is coming out all the time that's able to really explain the way that's going on.
Ben: Yeah. They recently did, the one I saw on this gene, CD38, which causes you to release oxytocin, which is like your trust or your love hormone that would typically get released when you're hugging someone, or making love, or like women release it when they're with their baby or when they're breast feeding, and they actually found that that gene got up regulated. And they did it on couples, and when couples told each other, looked into each other's eyes and told each other what they were grateful for about the other person, they actually saw this upregulation of this gene, which is really interesting to me.
I was actually talking with my wife about this last night, how children who grow up with stressed mothers, even if that mother was stressed before she even became pregnant with that child, those children are more prone to violence, and fear, and anger due to this idea of epigenetics. Meaning that your environment and your emotions can actually change not only your gene expression but your children's gene expression. And what it looks like from this research is that being grateful, like showing the positive emotion of gratitude, can actually rewire not just your brain and your heart, like you mentioned, but it turns out some of the genes responsible for some of these neuropeptides or neurotransmitters, like oxytocin, or serotonin, or dopamine, those get upregulated, and again, you get upregulated in this positive feedback loop the more often that you're grateful in a way that actually changes your body's biochemistry and possibly even like the chemistry of your kids, which is just crazy to think about.
Owen: That is compelling. I'm glad that you mentioned that because there is all this research now that's showing that. And when you think about that, it kind of motivates you more to do those positive things. Look into your partner's eyes and tell 'em that, and realize there's stuff going on here on so many levels that's positive.
Ben: Yeah. You talk about materialism in the book. And researchers that have looked specifically at materialism and gratitude, or really the lack of gratitude and materialism, there's a lot of talk these days, there's like a new documentary called “Minimalism”, or “The Minimalist”, a new podcast about minimalism, and a lot of people talking about like cleaning things up, and I just got a book mailed to me that arrived a few days ago, it's called “Minimalist Parenting”, and it's almost like this trend to stray away from materialism. Where does gratitude fit in when it comes to materialism and why do you write about that in your book?
Owen: That's a great question. Well I've been a schoolteacher, like you said, for over a decade, and you know I get parents coming in saying, “I can't believe how materialistic, how entitled my kids are,” and then I'd see they bought the latest iPhone for 'em or something, so it was kind of interesting. But I noticed is I started using gratitude lists with some of the students. I got some feedback from the parents that were saying, “My son's not as materialistic as he used to be. He's not so concerned about what he's going to get.” I'll just tell you real quick a little story. One girl came in one day and she had started out the year, she'd had some struggles in the classroom. And she said, “I've got big news, Mr. Griffith.” And I said, “What's up?” And she said, “My dad and I went online last night and we started an online charity for orphans around the world.” And I was like, “Really? You did that? What prompted you to do that?” She said, “Well when we were doing the gratitude list, people were talking about how grateful they were for their parents. And I realize all the kids in the world who don't have parents.” And so she made this leap from being grateful for her parents and everyone in the classroom echoing this to “what action can I take to do this”. And when I talked to her parents, they were saying how she has been saving her money to do things. Like she bought everybody in her family gratitude journals. She said, “Mom, you're going to nursing school. I know you're stressed out. I think as a family, we should do gratitude journals.”
So I've seen students go from this consumer based society where they've kind of bought into the whole idea of, “I'll be happy just when I get this or get that.” And I see my friends, same kind of deal where it seems like it's really easy to fall in this trap of “I'll be happy when,” you fill in the blank. “I'll be happy when I get rich,” or, “When I just get that promotion.” Or for some people, it's when I get that perfect woman in my life. And then some people at the other end, “I'll be happy when I get rid of that person in my life.” I mean it's crazy what people think they need to make them happy. But when people use gratitude, especially teenagers, this is what's really interesting, when they've done studies on teenagers and trying some of these gratitude activities, when they measured that materialism, their materialism, their entitlement has gone down, which is amazing. It's really kind of a counterbalance to that kind of thing that can run rampant in all of us. We can get really attached to all the fun little gadgets, the technology, the latest whatever it is. But gratitude, I think again, it takes us back to, “I don't need more necessarily be happy or feel good. I just need to see what I have and appreciate that and appreciate the people in my life. And appreciate, like you said, where I am, the activities I get to do today, not what I have to do, but what I get to do today.
Ben: And I think what's compelling is that again they've done fascinating research studies on this. Like one that you talk about from Baylor University in the book where they surveyed a few hundred different undergrad students and they found that as their level of materialism went up, like as they start to get more and more, they actually expressed far and far less gratitude and less life satisfaction. And I've noticed of course the polar opposite of that you mentioned, for example, in the research study they did in teenagers. When I do a morning gratitude practice, or when me and my kids and my wife go around the table at night to say that one thing that we were grateful for that morning, I get a lot less decision making fatigue during the day because I'm not as obsessed with trying out all the new toys, and gadgets, and supplements, and foods, and diets, and workout materials. I'm pretty happy with like a very simplistic life the more often that I practice gratitude. So it's very interesting. Until I started to see some of this research, especially some of the studies you highlight in the book, I didn't really realize that that was a thing, that was like a proven thing that when you're grateful, you're actually just more content with just anything in life. It's incredibly, I don't want to say it's useful 'cause I don't want to make it sound like we're just using gratitude as this hack against materialism, but at the same time it's a very cool side effect.
Owen: Oh, it definitely is. It definitely is, you talked about opening up those neurotransmitters, there's a whole cascade effect I think on the physical and the anatomical side. But then on the psychological side and the spiritual side, when I practice gratitude, I do feel a lot less entitled. I'm willing to wait in line and I don't have to hurry up and get through that. I'm a much more polite driver. I'll let someone come in front of me. And just the way I'm interacting with the world is a lot more, it's a lot more peaceful, it's a lot, because I'm coming from place of contentment versus I-got-to-hurry-and-get-to-that-next-place, “get out of my way, I'm an important person, I need to do that”. And the things I have, I think one of the things that I really find is when I practice gratitude, the simple pleasures of life are deeply satisfying. I don't need that trip to Europe or whatever big thing, a nice dinner with a friend or with my family, like you said, going around the dinner table and really seeing that, seeing what I have, what I can be grateful for, and then putting that into practice.
Ben: Screen time, and technologies, and smartphones are obviously a big part of today's culture, and you talk about them in the book. You have a whole chapter devoted to gratitude and technology. What's the link between gratitude and technology?
Owen: Well, it's interesting you ask that because it kind of piggy's back on entitlement. We noticed a lot of the students who were so entitled were the ones who were spending so much time with their iPhones playing games, and it really seemed like we had to do something for that. I've got a son and one morning he was up, wanted to get on the screen, and there was this big deal, and I had to leave for an appointment. As I left I was trying to think, “How can we solve this?” And so I was thinking about gratitude and I had all of these ideas, by the time I called my wife, she said, “Oh, we figured it out. We made this list. We're going to put some healthy boundaries here. It's going to be one hour screen time a day, and we're going to make sure that we do chores before we do that.”
So I saw in my own life, in my own family just putting up some simple limits on that and also making sure to get outside. It's funny, we had, well I live in a cul de sac here, we had an outage of the internet, and it was a beautiful afternoon, and I just happened to be outside, and I saw all the neighbors start to come outside and the kids were playing. And it was funny because one of the other moms said to me, “We should ask the internet companies, they'll just shut off the internet every day about between 2 and 3 PM just to help the kids come outside. Because it's interesting, some of the research is showing, and it makes sense, the longer, especially students, are have having interaction with electronic devices, the more negative their behavior is.
So gratitude was one of the activities that I thought as an educator, as a parent that we could really help to interject instead of screen time. So with our class we did something really interesting. I asked the students, they said, “Who would be willing to go for a weekend without screen time and try to put in some of these gratitude activities, try to do things with your parents?” They could write somebody a gratitude letter or they could go for a hike because they're real grateful that we live near the Blue Ridge Mountains here. And the students that were able to do that, that were able to put away the electronic devices, and the families, this is what I love too, it spread to the families 'cause a lot of families got into this idea. “Can we do this? Can we put away our electronic devices for a whole weekend and find other things to fill that?” And you can imagine the families that were able to do this just had amazing you know results with this because, it's one thing I'm really particular, I know that they went on this hike and this picnic, and it became part of their weekly family outing, that they'd all put away the electronic devices. ‘Cause I know with adults we're just as guilty as the kids are with that stuff.
Ben: Yeah. That's what we do is we, well we all have a gratitude journal and what we do is instead of bringing the phones, or the Kindles, or anything like that to the table, we bring our journals. So actually what we do is we've got the journals, and have you seen these Table Topics cards? They're like cards where you draw a topic and it's like, “What superhero would you want at the table tonight”, or “if you could go anywhere in the world at the drop of a hat, where would you go?” We try and go for things that don't have screens like that at the dinner table especially. But yeah, bringing the journals out and just have a conversation about what it is that we're grateful for, it's enormously helpful and it's again just like an alternative to technology, where a lot of times you're just like looking for something to satisfy you or to cause that dopamine and serotonin release that gratitude, ironically enough, can give you. So it's kind of an interesting link and I'm glad you wrote about it in the book.
One of the things you also talk about in the book is how gratitude works like a muscle. In chapter 7 where you're talking about how you teach your students to give the gift of gratitude, you talk about gratitude as a muscle. Can you touch on that a little bit more? I mean we talked about neuroplasticity a little bit, but I'm curious what exactly that means, especially like from a research standpoint or from a little bit more of a drawn out standpoint. What does it mean for gratitude to be a muscle?
Owen: Yeah, I really like that question and the way you asked it. I think there's a way to become fit with gratitude. And similarly if someone wants to get their body in shape, they have to do certain activities and do them on a regular basis. So just like you would write down in your gratitude journal and do that, even if it's not every day, do at least a few times a week, you'll notice a change just like in your body as you're working out your muscles, you're going to notice a change. And the interesting thing is I write in the book a little bit about gratitude resisters, people who say this isn't going to work for me, and the research backs up that the people who have the hardest time with gratitude are the ones who benefit the most as you can imagine because there's something to that resistance. And I think similarly, sometimes the people who are the most out of shape are the ones who are going to benefit the most from working out those muscles and they just need to get the motivation and get the support.
In my book, I talk about getting a gratitude partner, someone you can be accountable to, and even in a fun way, practice these activities. So if you're trying to work out that gratitude muscle, have them contact you once a day, text you, or give them a call and have some accountability just as if you were working out, if you were doing your physical muscles. Having some accountability, having somebody who's going to help you practice that, it's going to help that. And as you build it up, you're going to get stronger and stronger just like with gratitude. You're getting stronger and it becomes part of the way you live your life. And I'll tell you, once you get in shape with that, if you stop doing it, you'd miss it because you're experiencing only the benefits from it.
Ben: Yeah. I guess it returns partially to that concept that it rewires parts of the brain.
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Ben: Did you see the study that they did at the Shoah Foundation with all these Holocaust testimonies?
Owen: No, I didn't.
Ben: Okay. This was a really interesting one, they actually showed a group of study participants a whole bunch of these brief vignettes in which they were, essentially people who had been through the Holocaust talking about people who had helped them out, like woman at the immigration agency stamping the passports so someone could flee to England, or someone receiving a new pair of shoes during the winter time march. And what they did was for every participant who was watching these vignettes, they asked them to immerse themselves in the context of the Holocaust, like imagine how they would feel if they were in the same situation and then rate how grateful that they felt. And they had an fMRI machine recording their brain activity, and they were showing enhanced activity in two primary regions of the brain, two cortices in the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex, and those are all the areas the brain we were talking to earlier associated with altruism, empathy, and interpersonal bonding.
And what they found was that these folks actually did indeed show increased levels of activity in these areas. But then they continued to show it, like they measured them, I think it was a few months later that they measured them again, and they were continuing to show these profound and long lasting neural effects, meaning that it was as if the gratitude had grown within their brains, almost like, I don't want to say a tumor 'cause that's probably a horrible word to use, but it really did create this positive feedback loop showing that the more you practice gratitude and the more grateful you are, the more your brain changes. And there's never been a study on this, but I would suspect that it would also cause the same thing with like serotonin, and dopamine, and oxytocin as you increase activity in those areas the brain, you'd probably see continual upgrades in surges of some of those positive hormones or positive neurotransmitters.
Owen: Oh, yeah. And that's a fascinating study, I'll have to look that up. I know that some of the simple studies they've done where, along with the gratitude journal, they have people write a gratitude letter when they think about somebody in their life, a teacher, or a relative, somebody they haven't thanked properly and put some thought into it, and write it, and deliver it, they found that, yeah, months down the road they were still experiencing some of the physiological and psychological benefits from this. And then they did that show how powerful the action is. They said what if you write it and don't deliver it, and they still saw those benefits. So any of these actions, it's amazing, the long lasting positive consequences of doing 'em.
Ben: Yeah. You have a strategy that you talk about in the book when it comes to mindfulness and gratitude, specifically regarding silence, and mindfulness, and gratitude. I found this really interesting because one of the things, one of the activities that I have my children do especially in the summer, is we do sit spots, like Native American style sit spots where they have one single place that they go, and it's the same place every time so that they can see changes in the environment around them as they sit, and they are to use their senses, their sense of sight, their sense of smell, their sense of touch, their sense of hearing, and they're just supposed to take in the world around them as they sit there for about 15 minutes and breathe. They learned this at a wilderness survival school that I attended with them, like a father-son wilderness survival school, and we just kept doing it after that. But you have kind of the school little exercise that you talk about that I believe you implement in one of the classrooms that you worked in and you talk about the link between mindfulness, and silence, and gratitude. Can you get into that?
Owen: Sure. One of the things that I found is with how busy we all are and our students are, it really was hard to settle down and really focus on gratitude a lot of the time. So I came across this activity where if you can have all the kids sit for 60 seconds just quietly, if you can just have him sit there for 60 seconds, just the way that brings, it can bring them into the present moment and it can bring them into where they're more aware of the gratitude in their lives. And it's really interesting 'cause I did this for 10 years, and I tell the students that first time, “The 60 seconds to some of you is going to seem like an eternity. And to others, it might not seem that bad.” So we do some simple breathing and some simple relaxation where you get the body to a place, and I'd let them, they can either close their eyes or they can kind of leave them open and just focus on a spot on their desk or something. And so we do that for a minute. And it's interesting because some of the students say they've never been able to sit that long for a whole minute. And we do that for a whole month, so we do it for 30 days.
And as they get more comfortable sitting there for the minute, we talk to them about thinking about something they're really grateful for, and really getting into that thought, and taking that to a new place with the silence they have. And then the second month, we'll go to two minutes. And we'll do that for a whole month. And then we'll go on. By the end of year, these kids are up to between 8 and 10 minutes of silence everyday. And in that time, they're thinking about things they're grateful for, people they're grateful for. I was telling a friend about this, and they were saying, “I don't think most adults could sit still for 8 to 10 minutes a day and think about gratitude.” But I'll tell you, for the classroom, I watched this transform our classroom to where we were all more peaceful, the kids got along better, it was easier for all of us to concentrate on the work at hand. When something challenging would come along, the kids were more open to a growth mindset. We talk about how gratitude is directly related to growth mindset, when I'm grateful for the challenges I have in life, whether that's learning math, or whether that's a difficult coworker or a boss. But when I can be grateful for somebody else in my life who's really challenging me, or for a challenge I have, because I know I'm going to grow from that, it really, that starts to kick in those neurotransmitters and making those neural pathways in connection. And where the mindfulness comes in is because I'm setting myself up for success when I have that balance in my life. And I can stay quiet, and I can stay in the moment, then I'm able to do that.
And as I taught these fourth graders, at the end of the year when I would reflect and I'd ask them what were some of the most important things they learned in life, so many would come back to that, the gratefulness, being comfortable with silence, the mindfulness. And I have students now who are in college, and they get back in touch with me, and their lives, the choices they've made and the connections that they still have to these practices, it's great to see that it's still important to them because they've seen how effective they are as they go through their teen years and now they're adults. So it's great to see it actually work throughout kids' lifetimes.
Ben: Yeah. Those three things seem to work really synergistically, breathing, silence, and gratitude. That's actually something that we now do as a family before dinner each night, 'cause mom makes these fantastic dinners, and they smell amazing, and all you want to do is just like open your gaping maw and just like shove it all into your mouth at once when you sit down to the table. But what I have everyone do is we go around, we say that one thing we were grateful for that morning, and then everybody does three breaths, like one deep nasal breath in, and then out through the mouth, and you can smell the food.
And again, all you want to do is eat, but you force your body to slow down, then you go again, in through the nose, out through the mouth, in through the nose, out through the mouth, and then we bless the food, and then we eat. And combining gratefulness with silence and then mindfulness about what it is you're going to eat, it's crazy. And there's a lot of talk out there actually in the IBS, IBD, irritable bowel, gastric issues, ulcers, that type of sector that a big, big part of that is simply eating stressed or eating in a hurry. And I feel that incorporating gratefulness, and mindfulness, and even silence right before a meal has helped me tremendously with, as stupid as it may seem, just digestion, and the way that you feel, and the level of appetite satiety after something as simple as a meal.
Owen: Yeah. That's a great point. That really is. And doing it as a family, I mean how powerful that is. Like I'm giving my students those skills, you're just building up in yourself, in your wife, in your kids, that's great.
Ben: Now when it comes to like the daily gratitude practice, I mean that you as an educator, and I think it's really cool how you get into your book, by the way, for those you listening in, again everything Owen and I talk about, you can access at bengreenfieldfitness.com/owen, that's O-W-E-N, Including his book “Gratitude: A Way Of Teaching”. But one of the things you talk about is of course how many children and teenagers that you have helped to establish a gratitude practice, and whether it's for yourself, or whether it's for children, or teenagers, or adults, can you give us some tips in terms of some of the best ways that you've found to make gratitude a habit? Like make gratitude a daily practice?
Owen: Sure, sure. I think the gratitude journal, that's the tested and tried way where you either write it at longhand. I have a sister Nancy who's wonderful, and she's a doctor, and she's so busy, but she will take time to get a pencil or a pen in hand and actually write down her gratitude. She said for her, that's the best way it works. For me, I found on the computer I have a reminder come up. Because before I had that, I'd forget to do it. But I have a reminder come up once a day, “Do gratitude journal”, and I just take some time. But even doing a gratitude journal, I let the students explore this and my family. You can write down three things you're grateful for, or you can write down one thing and just try to go deeply into it. I had a student who wrote, “I'm grateful for pizza,” and I challenged him, go a little deeper. So he backtracked. He said, “I'm grateful for the farmer who helped the wheat grow, and for the cows, and all the different ingredients that come into,” like you were talking about, food. So gratitude journal, in anyway to express it, on an iPhone, there are you know positive uses of technology and that would be one of them. There's are some great apps there. Now I will say one of the top gratitude researchers is a gentleman named Dr. Jeffrey Froh…
Ben: Jeffrey Froh?
Owen: I'm sorry. It's Froh, F-R-O-H, who teaches at Hofstra University, and he wrote the introduction to my book. And I was talking to him, I said, “You're one of the top gratitude researchers. How do you practice gratitude?” And he said that the gratitude journal didn't work for him. He tried it and he didn't feel comfortable with it, it didn't really seem like it was working. So he tried something, and I tell people, “If this works for you, it's great too,” is he got pictures of his family and he put them at strategic places. He put 'em in the mirror where he gets ready in the morning, he put them in his car where he sits down, he put him on his desk. And he told himself, “Everytime I see one of these pictures of my family, I'm going to think of three things I'm grateful for about my family.” And he says that works for him.
I think finding our strengths, or finding our student's strengths, or the people in our family, their strength. I know I had a student who was a great artist. And she would ask, “Instead of writing a gratitude journal, can I draw? Can I express my gratitude through drawing?” And I said, “I think that's great. As long as then you verbalize it to me, I think that's great because I think having to articulate what you're grateful for, whether it's writing it or verbalizing it, I think that's really important. I love the idea of writing a gratitude letter to somebody, or a gratitude visit. Those are things that you can do. And today on our cell phones, another positive use of technology is I'll write out to 100 people, I'll send a text, “What are you grateful for today?” And I get back, “Oh, thank you for asking me,” “Thank you for reminding me about gratitude.” You can do that.
Ben: That's awesome. That's actually in my voice mails. I tell people and when they call me to leave a voicemail. If anybody out there's ever called me, I tell people, “Whether you know leave me a voicemail, or whether you e-mail me,” and I give 'em my e-mail address in my voice mail, they are required to tell me one thing that they're grateful for. Actually, it's kind of surprising. Only about, I would say maybe 25% of people, like one of every four calls do people actually say what it is that they're grateful for. Iit's kind of interesting and the rest of them just like leave a message. Maybe they're pressing the star button or whatever before they listen to the entire message, but yeah, that's what I do on my voicemail to try and get some other people on the bandwagon. But I like that one about having something that you look at, like a photograph that you look at, or having that rule for yourself that you need to call someone, or contact someone, or text someone and tell them that you're grateful for them. And what about kids what would you say for kids is one of the better ways to establish a daily gratitude practice?
Owen: Well here's a fun one that we came up within our class is a gratitude family album where you get like a photo album type of thing and then you get, you sit around with the family and each person talks about what they're grateful for, and then you can write it, and you can get a photo. You can do gratitude photography. And each member of the family can have different pages, and as you do different activities, you can have that. And that's nice because that's a keepsake, something you can look through. I think what you're doing there, making it part of family culture and the family traditions, when you sit down for a meal is great. This is a really interesting one, one year, a really busy mom came to me and said, “I finally figured out how we can do gratitude in our family.” And I said, “Oh, how are you doing it?” She said, “We do gratitude at a red light.” “What are you talking about?” And she said, “Everyday, we have to drive to school and we always hit a number of red lights. So I told my kids, ‘We're going to turn off the radio, and every time we come to red light get ready 'cause we're going to go around the car and we're going to say what we're grateful for.'” And she said, “This is working fantastic.”
So it's interesting how you can even incorporate gratitude, I know some people will say, “Oh, gratitude just seems like one more thing I have to do. Do you realize how busy I am?” It's that kind of thing. But if you really want to do it, there are ways to apply it and not add extra stress, not add extra time to your life. There was a group of teenagers who, another teacher said, “This group, they really don't want to do gratitude. They're just resistant to this whole thing. What can I do?” And so I said, “Well first of all, talk to them and let them lead the activity. Ask them what they want to do with gratitude.” And one of the kids, I think they thought they'd kill the idea, but they said, “Could we had gratitude tattoos?” And the teacher came back and said, “What should I do with that?” And I said, “Well, why don't you have them research some character trait or something, look at the Chinese symbols, or the radicals for some type of quality they have in themselves that they're really grateful for. And then with the parents' permission, get ball point pens, and let them do the gratitude tattoos on themselves. Then maybe at the end of the semester for the students who really practice this, you could bring in a henna tattoo artist to do this. And they did it. And the teenagers loved it. And it really caught on at their school.
So I mean, I think there are lots and lots of ways to find a way that gratitude can really fit into your life, and it can be something that can add so much joy, and so much happiness, and peace. And if one thing doesn't work, try something else. I think the accountability is wonderful. Around our school, we were setting up little, we had a group that would meet. And teachers are so busy and so stressed out, but we would meet actually early every Wednesday morning, we'd meet for coffee and we'd talk about the way we were practicing gratitude in our lives on a personal level, how it's affecting our family's, then in our classrooms, and that's where this book really came out of. I was doing this and the other people at school were seen this happening, and they wanted to do this. And one of the teacher said, “You should start a blog. You should really start a blog. We need to get this message out to other educators.” So I started a blog, it really took off, I loved to see teachers in Russia, teachers in France were starting to read about how they could practice gratitude. And then I put a little “how to” article on Edutopia, which is George Lucas' website for educators, and it got a hundred thousand hits in just the first week.
Owen: Yeah. Which showed me how hungry teachers are for something positive in the classroom. And publishers saw this and said, “You really need to write a book. We've got to get this message out.” And I'm grateful that it was a bestseller and that I'm getting stories out from across the country how administrators are buying it for their teachers and they're finding, the way it's set up with short chapters, and it has the summary, and it has some discussion questions, and it has actionable items, it's really something, especially as school year goes on and teachers feel like their batteries are running down, this is something that they can use. But then I didn't realize how this idea of gratitude and this book can be applied to anyone. I worked at a company that made fajitas. Before I became a teacher, I was working in the food industry. And the CEO of the company, he thought a book and he had all his salesmen to order a copy of it because his idea was, “Hey, if you're a salesman and you're grateful, you're going to be a better salesman. And you're going to be healthier, you won't have as many sick days. Attitudes are contagious, whether that's the culture you have in your family, in your school, or in your company, and gratitude is one of those positive things that can stand out.
I was reading recently about this idea of being a positive deviant, which at first you hear deviant and you think, “Oh, that's someone who's sick, someone who's doing something negative.” But I think if we can be positive deviants and we can show that you can go through life, you can have all the stresses, you can have all the challenges that anyone has, but you can practice gratitude and you can show that you're out of the norm, and a deviation in a positive way, then other people see that, and it can only have this power of attraction where then they'll ask, “What are you doing to get this?” And it gives them the motivation to try it. Oprah's mention gratitude, it's getting out there in the mainstream, and I think really at this critical mass with the science coming behind it. And the John Templeton Foundation gave $10 million to study this, to try to get it out to teachers and they're about to come out with a free curriculum. It's going to be great that I will try to get out as many people as I can to make it available. So I'm really excited about, we're at the forefront here of I think a lot of powerful tools being made available, and I think it's really going to take off even more than we've seen it thus far.
Ben: What are the best resources? Like the best websites if people wanted to like subscribe to a blog feed, or they wanted to subscribe to a podcast, something to kind of keep them, 'cause for me, like that's one of my keys, Owen, is if I know I'm subscribed to a podcast that keeps me reminded about something like this, or if I have a blog that I subscribe to, and I'm actually, honestly I'm still looking for like a good kind of like all encompassing resource on gratitude. What are some of your favorite resources, or podcasts, or kind of like syndicated mediums to be able to stay up to date on gratitude and gratefulness?
Owen: Yeah, that's a great question too. One of my favorite ones of all is the Greater Good Science Center. They had me come out there, they had a whole symposium on gratitude. And they're partnered up with UC Berkeley, in fact they're out of UC Berkeley. So they have some great scientists, some great research that's going on there, and it's going on around the country, in the world, they come out with e-mail that they'll blast out once a week. And so you can sign up for the Greater Good Science Center e-mail. They talk about gratitude, they also talk about the other parts of positive psychology like we were talking about, empathy, altruism, forgiveness, the sense of awe. And they actually have some apps, this is really exciting, you'll probably like this. They have some the apps you can download, they have some interesting ways people are going on and expressing their gratitude, you get e-mails to remind you to put in your gratitude for the day. So the Greater Good Science Center is wonderful.
There's a great website called gratefulness.org, and I'll put that in the notes also. But this a website where, it was started by this Catholic monk name Brother David Steindl-Rost who wrote a book about gratitude, but it's not Catholic, it's not religious. It just took off because people were so interested in gratitude. And it'll have everything from poetry about gratitude, to webinars, to articles, and research. So that has a little wider range of things, but that's another one that you can get on their e-mail list. And then right now I'm working with the people from gratefulness.org about putting together a class that we're looking, that we're shooting to get out in February. So I'll let you know about that where there'll be weekly activities because so many people want to have a little more guidance, and what people need, like you were saying, is something they can do and then come back the next week and share, “Hey, here's they stuff that really worked for me. Maybe you can give me some more ideas in this area?” That's kind of, it's establishing some kind of a long term activity that can really, really help people make this not just a passing fad or something they're just going to try and give up on, but something that will stay with them.
Ben: I like it. Do you know if either of those websites have podcasts?
Owen: They do. I know that the greater good website does have a wealth of videos, and podcasts, and links to that. And gratefulness.org, not so much, but they're starting with that, which I love, as more people are visiting their website and they're starting to make more resources available.
Ben: Okay, cool. Yeah. I actually see that now. I've gone to their website. They have, for example, “Anatomy of Gratitude”, they have “Grateful Living In The Double Realm”. Yeah, so it looks like they've got a lot of downloadable audio, 'cause I know a lot of our listeners like listen in while they're pumping iron and clean the house, or fiddling around their garage. So yeah, I'll put a link. For those of you listening in, I'm going to link to Owen's book, which is again titled “Gratitude: A Way Of Teaching”, and I will also link to this gratefulness.org website, the Greater Good website at Berkeley, this researcher Dr. Jeffrey Froh that Owen talked about, and all the other resources that Owen and I discussed. And I highly recommend, especially if you're an educator, especially if you have children, but even if just for your own interesting gratitude, that you check out this book “Gratitude: A Way Of Teaching”. And again, everything is at bengreenfieldfitness.com/owen. And Owen, I want to thank you for coming on the show, very grateful for you coming on the show, and sharing all this stuff with us, man.
Owen: Oh, Ben. It's been my pleasure. I learned a lot from you, so I appreciate your time.
Ben: Awesome. Alright, folks. Well, I'm Ben Greenfield along with Owen Griffith, the author of “Gratitude: A Way Of Teaching”, signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Have a healthy week.
There is one emotion, above all, that elicits a release of the powerful feel-good hormone oxytocin, along with serotonin and dopamine. And promotes better sleep. And lower blood pressure. And decreased inflammation. And fewer aches and pains. Better relationships. Increased longevity.
The list goes on and on.
That emotion is gratitude.
And my guest on today's podcast specialized in teaching gratitude, gratitude implementation and daily gratitude practice strategies and tactics to teachers, educators and children.
His name is Owen Griffith, and he is a university level Student Mentor who supports and guides future teachers. Owen taught as an elementary educator for over a decade. Owen's first book, Gratitude: A Way Of Teaching, was published by Rowman & Littlefield and was a Top Ten Best Seller in April, 2016.
This valuable book gives educators solution-based methods and research-based resources to improve classroom culture, as well as enabling schools to elevate students’ engagement and academic achievement. Grounded in scientific research, it delves into numerous integral aspects of gratitude as it relates to education. It features success stories and step-by-step instructions to successfully implement gratitude in schools. You will discover how to combat materialism and entitlement with gratitude and altruism, how to help teenagers utilize gratitude successfully, as well as encouraging the entire families of our students to embrace gratitude and make it a permanent part of their lives.
He is a regular contributor to Huffington Post and his work has appeared on Edutopia and U. C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center’s online magazine. He earned a Master's Degree from Kennesaw State University in Educational Leadership. He is available for consulting, speaking engagements and to lead professional development in a variety of areas. He resides with his wife and son in North Georgia.
During our discussion, you'll discover:
-The important difference between having an attitude of gratitude and positive thinking…[8:00]
-The surprising physical and physiological benefits of gratitude, including the idea of neuroplasticity, cardiac medicine and much more…[13:10 & 19:25]
-The best way to pull yourself or your kids out of the vicious cycle of materialism…[24:40]
-How gratitude can be used to decrease technology and smartphone addiction…[31:05]
-Why Owen says that “gratitude works like a muscle”, and how your brain actually changes and becomes rewired as you practice gratitude…[35:30]
-The fascinating link between mindfulness, silence and gratitude…[43:00]
-The best way to establish a daily gratitude practice for children vs. teens vs. adults…[49:10 & 53:50]
-Owen's favorite resources, books and podcasts for learning more about gratefulness…[60:20]
-And much more!
Resources from this episode:
–Greater Good website at Berkeley
–Owen's Huffington Post Database on Gratitude
–The Christian Gratitude Journal Ben designed
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