By Diane Ako
Filmmaker Doug Vermeeren likes to quote author Robert M. Pirsig when introducing the idea of positive psychology: “The truth knocks on the door and you say, ‘Go away, I'm looking for the truth,’ and so it goes away. Puzzling.”
Positive psychology entails a call for science and psychological practice to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology, Vermeeren says.
“People can become suspicious when you tell them that they can change their lives with a simple shift in perspective; it can seem too good to be true because it’s an uncomplicated answer to many of life’s challenges. But I’m just one of many who have experienced a measurable life change with gratitude,” says Vermeeren, creator of the new film, “The Gratitude Experiment,” which demonstrates through individual stories the powerful effects of gratitude on people’s lives.
“I feel that everyone deserves that opportunity.”
He describes three areas in life that can be positively transformed with the power of gratitude:
• Attitude: Gratitude can help us overcome any problem or hardship. It gives us perspective on what’s important, what we truly value and what we have right in front of us. In our small corner of this vast universe, we find the most miraculous thing of all: life. No matter what situation we are in or worries we face, we can always be grateful that we are alive on this beautiful planet. There is a world of possibilities open to whatever attitude we bring to it. Today we can appreciate this opportunity, giving thanks for everything we have and sharing with one another what we are grateful for.
• Health: The positive thinking triggered by our gratitude has proven health benefits, including strengthening the immune system, reducing stress and depression, reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, better coping skills during hardship and overall increased sense of well-being, according to the Mayo Clinic. “This isn’t empty, New Age-y fluff,” says Vermeeren, a successful business consultant. “This is testable criteria and measurable health benefits.”
• Relationships: One of the most defining characteristics of the human race is our social nature. We are hardwired to work, communicate and interact with each other. Most of us understand the value of being there for each other, especially during hard times. However, research from the University of California-Santa Barbara shows that it’s also crucial to be proactively positive during normal or good times, as well. Positive reinforcement during good times reinforces bonds and assures a friend, family member or spouse that you’ll be there during hard times. A neutral response to good news from a spouse, for example, implies apathy and that the responder is less involved in the other’s life. “Embrace the good stuff not only in your life, but also in the lives of others,” Vermeeren says.
What are you grateful for today?