The Science of Gratitude

“It is not happy people who are thankful, it is thankful people who are happy” – author unknown

What is gratitude?

Gratitude is a feeling of thankfulness; an expression of appreciation or it can even be described as an emotion, a feeling of happiness that comes from appreciation. Some may describe gratitude as an attitude, a mood or even a personality trait, often those who practice gratitude regularly having better resilience to adversity, increased well-being and increased general happiness.

In Law of Attraction, it’s one of the key enablers of happiness and a powerful process in purposefully creating the life you want. Gratitude features in most world religions, from Christianity to Islam and even features heavily on most self-improvement books. It is generally accepted in the field of positive psychology that being thankful to what you have is one of the top enablers to lead a happy and fulfilling life. Many studies have linked practicing gratitude to increased well-being and reduced states such as stress and depression. This is not really much of a surprise. Knowing what you have, and appreciating it, helps to acknowledge how fortunate you are. It gives you a different perspective than always wanting more and more. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting more, but starting that process from a place of gratitude will set you up on a more positive point.

Gratitude and Positive psychology studies

One of the popular ways to practice gratitude, and to really enjoy the benefits of gratitude this should be an on-going practice, is to keep a ‘Gratitude Journal’; writing down the things you are grateful on a regular basis. A research study by Emmons & McCullough found that keeping “counting one’s blessings” journal, a conscious focus on blessings, can lead to improved psychological and physical functioning. In this particular study, they examined the practice of gratitude by asking participants to keep weekly or daily journals and had control groups who kept journals of hassles and events of the week / day. Those who participated in gratitude journal writing had substantial and consistent improvement to well-being and general feeling of life satisfaction.

Studies such as the one conducted by Dr Martin Seligman, where the participants in his studies embarked on writing a gratitude letter to someone who they never really thanked properly for their kindness and delivering the letters personally, led to huge increases in happiness scores and effects lasted as long as a month. Other studies have focused on relationships and how gratitude can impact on them. A study by Sara Algoe (University of North Carolina) found that grateful couples not only had more satisfaction in their relationships, but more likely to be in their relationships nine months later.

Gratitude and Law of Attraction

When you have a universe that is responding not just to your actions, but also your thoughts and feelings, gratitude can play a powerful part in creating a fulfilling life. But how does Law of attraction respond to gratitude? Essentially it comes down to having higher energy levels and being in positive frame of mind. So in a ‘like attract like’ universe, you will attract higher energy situations leading to more happiness. Gratitude creates abundance as gratitude is a thought or feeling of having ‘enough’ as opposed to ‘not having enough’. In law of attraction, a mind-set of not having enough will lead to attracting a life of not having enough, a life of scarcity.

One of the tools in ASK; BELIEVE and RECEIVE process is to write each of your wish or intension as thanks as though you have already received what you have wished for (‘I am so grateful for …….’). This creates a positive feeling and a higher energy point for the universe to respond to. The catch here is that you really have to BELIEVE what you are ASKING for will be RECEIVED or manifested.

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” ― Meister Eckhart

Gratitude: Practice makes it perfect!

How do you practice gratitude? There are many tools and techniques that so many researchers and great thinkers have come up with and here are my favourite few.

  1. Gratitude journal – writing down what you are grateful for on a daily / weekly basis. 3 to 5 points is often enough but the key is to keep it up regularly.
  2. Thank you note or letter – just like in Dr Seligman’s experiment, writing a note to someone for their kindness. Studies have shown you don’t even have to deliver the letter, but writing it in the first place has benefits.
  3. Showing your appreciation and saying thank you (and meaning it!) – The word ‘thank you’ can go a long way in cultivating positive relationships, whether that is with your partner or your colleagues. How about telling a loved one why you are thankful for having them in your life.
  4. Being Mindful – noticing and appreciating the small things in life; a beautiful sunny day or a smile from a stranger. When you become mindful and take notice of moments, you get a profound appreciation for the bigger picture, which is often your life in general.
  5. Gratitude prayer – for those who are religious as well as those who haven’t quite made up their mind, a prayer or counting your blessing intrinsically can help to practice gratitude.

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History and Law of Attraction

Law of Attraction is the belief that you will attract into your life whatever you think about and focus on and this has been popularised by the book ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne (2006). Whether you are a fan of the book or not, The Secret has been responsible for popularising the law of attraction and bringing this concept to the attention of the world. One of the claims of the book is that Law of Attraction has been around for a long time and that it can be traced back though history to 3000 BC, where ‘The Secret’ which the Law of Attraction was recorded in stone. According to the book, the law, in one form or another, has appeared in Babylonian times to religions such as Hinduism, Hermetic traditions, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. So did us humans have this knowledge as far as that or is this something recent, a new age science?! How far back can you really trace it back to history?

Beginnings…

Of course for many believers, there is only one beginning for Law of Attraction and that is when the universe came into existence. Even if we accept that the Law of Attraction existed at the beginning of universe, we must also accept the fact that Human awareness of the law is perhaps a crucial point in its existence. According to theoretical physicist John Wheeler, colleague of Albert Einstein, we live in a participatory universe and that our observations might actually contribute to the creation of physical reality. In other words we are not simply bystanders in the physical universe but we are shapers and creators living in a participatory universe.

The term Law of Attraction seems to have made an appearance in the late 19th century books including Isis Unveiled by Helen Blatvatsky (1887) and Prentice Mulford’s essays in 1891. One of the strong influencers of the New Thought Movement, Thomas Troward claimed in 1904 :

the action of Mind plants that nucleus which, if allowed to grow undisturbed, will eventually attract to itself all the conditions necessary for its manifestation in outward visible form’.

Of course one of the other famous books on the subject is the ‘The Science of Getting Rich’ by Wallace D Wattles (1910), the inspiration for the book ‘The Secret’, which also has similar principles, of objects you desire and focus on will lead to that object or goal being realized in the material plane.

So is late 19th century is the real beginning of awareness of Law of Attraction? Well it depends on your view point and your interpretation.

Ancient connections…

The stone tablet that is referred in The secret is based on the Emerald Tablet of Hermes which is said to have existed in 3000 BC although it is first mentioned in Arabic texts in 6th and 8th centuries and there has been many translations of it including one by Issac Newton which states:

‘That which is above is from that which is below, and that which is below is from that which is above, working the miracles of one’

Again depending on your view point, you can interpret this as saying that universe (above) and us (below) are connected and us and universe can work as one to achieve miracles.

Law of attraction can also be loosely supported by Hindu philosophy, based on the belief that there is a supreme universal force (Brahman) and that each soul (athma) is connected to this one ultimate reality.

Personally having come from a Hindu background, it has been ingrained in me from childhood that there is such things as a soul, our consciousness, and this is connected to the universe. So the concept of Law of Attraction, where we live in a universe that is affected by our thoughts, feelings and actions doesn’t seem so strange of a concept. In actual fact, it makes me believe more in the power of prayer! After all, isn’t praying to god or Supreme Being just like stating your intensions to the universe?! Or perhaps it really does depend on your view point.

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Psychology and Law of Attraction

 Visualisation & Law of Attraction

A true believer of Law of Attraction believes that the universe can help you to attract what you desire in your life. However, many believers still struggle to receive their desired outcome and this is often down to that fact that there are too many thoughts and emotions happening to us at a subconscious level, which is often difficult to control.  To influence this, one of the main techniques used is ‘visualisation’. Creating images in your brain of what it would be like to have achieved your goal or your desired outcome. Using your imagination to create vivid, colourful pictures and imagining what success looks like and feels like, you bring the future into the present moment. This creates more of a powerful magnet than just intending though thought processes.

This type of visualisation should help to bring thoughts, feelings, words and emotions and actions in line with your outcome. In the ASK, BELIEVE, RECEIVE 3 step process, visualisation helps with the BELIEVE step, by giving a tool that tune your thoughts to think what it would be like when you have received it. By imagining you have achieved your outcome, you are removing doubt and negativity and attracting the outcome into your life.

For psychologists, visualisation is nothing new. Visualisation is used for goal setting in the corporate world, in treatment of patients in behavioural therapies, visualisation is used as a means of control in an uncontrollable situation and even in world of sports visualisation plays a big part in outcomes. Great sports personalities such as Andy Murray, Wayne Rooney and Jessica Ennis-Hill regularly performs visualisation sessions before games to achieve their goals. For example, when Jonny Wilkinson (one of England’s best rugby union players), is required to kick for goal, he uses a visualisation routine to help him put the ball between the posts: “I visualise the ball travelling along that path and imagine the sensation of how the ball is going to feel when it hits my foot for the perfect strike.”(The Telegraph, UK) Psychology and Law of Attraction are not mutually exclusive; there are a lot of synergies between Law of Attraction and Psychology, particularly in relation to Positive Psychology (see below). Positive psychology and law of attraction are like the two sides of the same coin, a coin that has been placed on table, with one side up and other side hidden. It is easier to work with Positive Psychology as it’s the known, proven side, while with Law of Attraction, is like the hidden side of the coin, you know it exists, but you just cannot see it!

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Is Law of Attraction a version of Positive Psychology?

What is Positive Psychology? A rather newish area of scientific study of Psychology, developed in the 1990’s, focused on the belief that ‘people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play’(from Positive Psychology Center, Penn). Positive psychologists are concerned with four topics: (1) positive experiences, (2) enduring psychological traits, (3) positive relationships and (4) positive institutions.

From socio-psychological point of view, focus on Positive Psychology is often beneficial, given that as humans we have something called a ‘negative bias’; a negative thought or emotion will have much more of an impact on a person’s behaviour and cognition, compared to something equally positive. This is an evolutionary trait which has helped our ancestors to survive their harsh environment by helping them to be more tuned into the dangers and pitfalls that surrounded them, rather be concerned with more positive emotions such as happiness and joy. This isn’t to say that our ancestors were very unhappy people, but more to the fact that given their fight for survival, they were less focused on pursuit of happiness.

Positive psychology topics such as self-belief, enduring psychological traits such as resilience to adversity and how you manage your relationships, also play an important part in law of attraction. You cannot have persistence pessimistic thoughts and expect the law of attraction to work in your favour. Same goes for resilience, if visualisation and other techniques don’t work, then do you give up or do you persist? While Advocators of Law of Attraction may say visualisation and positive statements enable the universe to attract a solution into your life, while psychologist may describe visualisation and positive statements as a tool for the subconscious mind to focus and look for creative ways of problem solving. But in both cases, there are greater chances of success than when there is no pre-thought out goal or outcome. We are very social creatures and human interactions and relationships play a big part in our wellbeing, happiness and to enable us to live a fulfilling life.

One thing all psychologist and law of attraction believers will agree on is that you cannot change someone without them wanting to change themselves. So how you manage your relationships is quite important as the only person who you have control over is yourself. Law of attraction encourages filling your mind with positivity and love for yourself and well as those around you. Be grateful for everything you have and be thankful for all the love and connections you have in your life. I don’t think any psychologist, positive or otherwise, would disagree with that. Loving yourself is a really important step to building great relationships with others. After all, if you cannot love yourself, how can you expect others to do so?!

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Is Law of Attraction merely a result of focus?

The ability for us to pay particular attention to the task at hand, and ignore other distractions is what we describe as focus. It is generally accepted in the field of psychology that the more focused we are, the more successful we will be at reaching our goals. So I have to ask myself, is Law of Attraction merely a focus tool? The more we think about something, the more we visualise, the more attention we bring to something, therefore we succeed at it. Out prefrontal cortex, just behind our forehead is working hard on our behalf to manage behaviour, helping us to prioritise and focus. For example, I want to succeed in my exam, so I devote more and more time on it. I visualise myself achieving it and, I actually study, ignore any other distractions. My increased focus and attention on my exams meant that I actually pass the exams. Does that mean it was Law of Attraction that worked in this case or was it purely my ability to focus?!

I think the answer is bit more complex than saying it was the Law of Attraction or it was purely my focus and hard work. You cannot expect law of attraction to work, if you decided you will leave it up to the universe and not study! Your thoughts may be asking to pass the exams, but your conscious actions (which cannot happen without thought process), is doing the opposite. This is a bit like the story of the poor Italian man who prayed and prayed to win the lottery, but didn’t buy a lottery ticket (see ‘Science and Law of Attraction’ below).

Focus and hard work also has a role to play, but there is also something else at play.  For example, some people seem to  breeze through life, whether its exams, career, wealth, family etc., it comes quite naturally to them, while others, it doesn’t matter how hard they seem to study, focus on  career, try to attain wealth, its hard work. They do achieve their goals, but it really is an uphill battle. Think of all the high achievers you have come across. Not just those achieve successes in the work place or in a business, but those who really seem to succeed in life and seem genuinely happy. They may not have everything, but they are happy with what they have and they have an air of confidence about them. You often find that these individuals do not go after their goals; their goals follow them, like attracting circumstances and success. What do these individuals do that is different from the ‘battlers’?! Lot of it does come down to attitude, self-belief and clarity on what they actually want. It’s almost like the battlers expect a battle and it becomes a battle, often their goals changing part way though. While, the high achievers have a different attitude to life than most others and tend to view the bigger picture and a clear vision of what can be achieved and what they expect of themselves and others. At this point, sceptics would argue that of course it’s not focus alone, but also having the right attitude and have a clear goal is the key to success, not some unexplained universal force.

Coincidences vs. Purposeful attraction

One of the hard facts to ignore in the arguments for Law of Attraction is all the reported achievements and successes that focus, attitude and clear goal setting alone cannot explain. For example, people like Eddie Coronado (Manifest your Millions) and Cynthia Stafford (California Mega Millions), who claimed to have won millions on the lottery by using law of attraction. Although lottery winners are far and few in between, there are also other instances where people claim to attract the right person at the right time, attracting sequence of events, chance meeting that lead to successes, other words, increased coincidences which lead to a particular desired outcome.

I have personally also experienced this, coming across the right information or direction at the right time when I was intensely thinking about something. Great example for me is that, I always wanted to write; I have always written diaries which always help to clarify my thoughts, but I always wanted to publish something, hopefully something meaningful. And I have been thinking intensely about this recently. Then a random chance meeting with someone led me to start this blog. The conversation I had was just a 5 minute conversation, with a passing remark about blogs, but it gave me my ‘light-bulb’ moment. I may have started a blog further down the track by my own accord, but that meeting and that conversation gave me a feeling of ‘right’ action at the ‘right’ time. Other examples in my life include meeting people who I haven’t met in a while, but I would have thought about them not so long ago.  For me, it is harder for me to say these are mere coincidence and focus. Attitude, self-belief and goal setting certainly don’t explain it!

“Coincidences are not accidents but signals from the universe which can guide us toward our true destiny” Deepak Chopra

Science and Law of Attraction

So what is the Law of Attraction?

In the simplest of terms, Law of Attraction states that it is your thoughts that attract the experiences in your life. “Like attracts like” therefore if you predominately think positive thoughts, you attract positive experiences in your life and if you predominately think negative thoughts, you attract negative experiences in your life. Fundamentally, this is based on an energy interaction with the universe or (yet to be defined) universal force.

The 3 basic steps for Law of attraction are:

ASK – ask the universe what you want. State your intention or your want. Be clear of what you want and phase it positively and think it positively. Rather than stating ‘I don’t want to be broke’; state ‘I want to have money’.

BELIEVE – Believe as you have received it. Tune your thoughts to think what it would be like when you have received it. Imagine it, feel it – how would you feel if you have receive it?

RECEIVE – you will receive it. If you intend, visualise, and feel correctly, you should be able to see the results in your life.

Although this sounds simple and straightforward enough, unfortunately, we human beings are not so simple. When we have more than 50,000 thoughts a day, many often at a sub-conscious level, therefore controlling your thoughts becomes rather complicated. It becomes even more complicated with our feeling and emotions are involved. So in many instances you may know what you want and you may even actively ‘ask’ the universe, but your predominant thought is that it won’t happen to you. So in a ‘like attract like’ universe, it won’t happen to you! As this is the energy or vibrational frequency you are sending out.

What the logic behind Law of Attraction?

Many people believe Law of Attraction (LoA) is one of the natural laws in the universe such as Newton’s Law of Gravity or Gauss’s Law of Electricity and Magnetism. Our thoughts, our consciousness are intricately linked to the universe and our vibrations of thoughts or frequency (just like the frequency of a radio transmitter) will attract those experiences in our life. Many sceptics will argue against this as there is no way (at least in the current level of scientific advances) to prove that our consciousness can affect the working of the universe.

The Science-y bit!

There are two areas of study that can be interpreted to indirectly support the existence of Law of Attraction (rather than prove it out right!):

  1. Components of the Universe

Until about thirty years ago, astronomers thought that the universe was composed almost entirely of “baryonic matter”, ordinary atoms, which are made from varying numbers of protons, neutrons and electrons.  But in recent decades there had been various studies which suggest that there is something in the universe that we cannot see, termed “Dark Energy” making up over 73% of the universe and “dark matter” making up 23%, while baryonic matter only makes up 4%.  I must say that I don’t fully understand all the theories put forward by the cosmologists and theoretical physicists to state that this somehow supports a universe that can react to our thoughts, but what this does suggest to me is that there are a lot of things out in the cosmos that we do not yet understand, laws that are yet to be discovered. So perhaps, there is room for a universe that can react to the vibrations of our thoughts!

2.   Quantum Physics

Second set of support comes from quantum physics which looks at the world from a sub-atomic level and looks at behaviour of matter and its interactions with energy on the scale of atoms and subatomic particles. In simple terms, quantum physics seems to indicate that Matter (particles such as atoms which essentially we are made up of!) have ‘wavelike behaviour’. In other words, we are made of vibrational energy at the sub-atomic level. This theory, for many advocators of Law of Attraction, is the ultimate supportive argument for Law of Attraction. We are bodies of energy living in a universe filled with energy. So why can’t our vibrations of thoughts affect the workings of the universe?!

We are very far off from neither scientifically proving Law of Attraction can or cannot work, it boils down to more of a philosophical question, “just because something cannot be proven, does that mean it doesn’t exist?”. If science can’t explain something, then there are 3 possibilities: (a) it has not been discovered yet, (b) it is not yet understood or will always elude us, or (c) it doesn’t actually exist!

I like to view the Law of Attraction in a slightly different way. I know from my days as undergraduate, studying Neuroscience is that, what we DON’T know about the working of the human brain outweighs considerably more than what we DO know. Classic example is the “placebo effect”. We know a sugar pill can work as well as a test drug, as long as the subject is convinced of the benefits of the placebo, but science cannot explain why for sure. So for me, more of an appropriate question to ponder is (from Harry Potter – when Professor Dumbledore speaks to Harry in the afterlife):

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

My experiment – 1

My first experiment to test out the Law of Attraction is hopefully something tangible to measure. I have been feeling rather aimless at work. As I work in the Banking industry (even excluding all the scandals of the recent times), I cannot see my purpose, I cannot see where I add value when create my elaborate spreadsheets and have my lengthy meetings. Who am I helping?! Yes, myself to an extent, I get paid and I am helping my management achieve their targets, but I often struggle to see the bigger picture. Don’t get me wrong, there is part of the job that I do enjoy, the sense of achievement when I get something done, the intellectual challenge, the human interaction etc.

So rather than doing something drastic as changing careers or job, I want to be able to use my current skill set to contribute to something bigger. More and more as I am tuned to my thoughts and wants, the more and more opportunities present to me. I have come across an unpaid trustee work using my current financial skill set, for an animal charity, requiring about 10-15 days of time in a year. For me this should be very manageable with my current work commitments and gives me the purpose that I crave for as animals welfare is one of my passions.

So for my first experiment, I intend to attract this role into my life and I intend to succeed at working in this role, while maintaining my good work / life balance.

To end this blog with, I want to use a quote from one of my favourite books, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, “There’s a wonderful old Italian joke about a poor man who goes to church every day and prays before the statue of a great saint, begging, “Dear saint-please, please, please…give me the grace to win the lottery.” This lament goes on for months. Finally the exasperated statue comes to life, looks down at the begging man and says in weary disgust, “My son-please, please, please…buy a ticket.”

So on that note, I better get on with the application! Happy experimenting!