Thursday, 11 April 2013

The gratitude attitude in action

For Easter, I returned to the UK. I've been wearing long johns (thermals) for the past 3 weeks; not the same pair of course! The cold in the first few days was torturous, but like most things I soon got used to it and was grateful for the many luxuries that the UK has to offer.

A fairly accurate representation

When we first arrived on Praslin, a good friend of ours said the most bizarre thing, "It is great here, but you have to get off the island (i.e. leave Seychelles) every few months. During one of your school holidays take the opportunity to go somewhere else." He reasoned that you had to do it to a) avoid cabin fever and b) to appreciate what we have here on Praslin. Leaving Seychelles has indeed been beneficial. Very few places can match Seychelles for the quality of their beaches and pace of life. Bird island is a great example:

Vallee de Mai is another great example:

Photo's by Niraj Sanghvi

I think I've taken these places for granted because they're so close. We drive through the Vallee de Mai every day, but having been away, I truly appreciate and miss those familiar sights, sounds and smells. It reminds me of the Gratitude Attitude in Prof. Richard Wiseman's book:

Present an individual with a constant sound, image or smell and something very peculiar happens. They slowly get more and more used to it and eventually it vanishes from their awareness. For example, if you walk into a room that smells of freshly baked bread, you quickly detect the rather pleasant aroma. However, stay in the room for a few minutes and the smell will appear to disappear. In fact, the only way to reawaken it is to walk out of the room and back in again. Exactly the same concept applies to many areas of our lives, including happiness. Everyone has something to be happy about. Perhaps they have a loving partner, good health, great kids, a satisfying job, close friends, interesting hobbies, caring parents, a roof over their heads, clean water to drink,  a signed Billy Joel album, or enough food to eat. However as time passes, they get used to what they have and, just like the smell of fresh bread, these wonderful assets vanish from their mind. As the old cliché goes, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Psychologist Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough wondered what would happen to people’s happiness levels if they were asked to carry out the conceptual equivalent of leaving the bread-smelling room and coming back in again. The researchers wanted to discover the effect of reminding people of the good things that were constantly present in their lives. Three groups of people were asked to spend a few moments each week writing. The first group listed five things for which they were grateful, the second noted down five things that annoyed them and the final group  jotted down five events that had taken place during the previous week. Everyone scribbled away: the ‘gratitude’ group remarked on things from seeing the sunset on a summer’s day to the generosity of their friends; the ‘annoyed’ group listed taxes and their children arguing; the ‘events’ group detailed making breakfast and driving to work. The results were startling. Compared to those in either the ‘annoyed’ or  ‘events’ groups, those expressing gratitude ended up happier, much more optimistic about the future, physically healthier and even exercised significantly more.

Unlike the research group, I've never spent much time conceptually "leaving the room". I've seldom stepped back and said wow, these are the things I'm grateful for. Not just on Praslin, but life in general. Perhaps the amount of energy and time spent in the 'annoyed' group has not been useful at all.

Living on an island can indeed be frustrating at times, but there are many pro's: my skin is in better condition, I'm less tired, my swimming has improved and I'm surrounded by some very successful and talented people. There are pro's and con's of living anywhere. Mrs H and H.P were right "The grass is never greener, it's just different." London is great, so to is Praslin, Doncaster, Leamington Spa. There are challenges everywhere and life isn't "easy" for anyone- we've got to make the most of it.

It's on my shelf in Praslin if anyone wants to borrow it. Be warned though, I once lent it to a student who didn't like reading. She loved it so much, the book disappeared for 16 months. Apparently her mum started reading it too, she quit her job and re-invented her life. You've been warned.

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