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Being Grateful is Good for You (Philosophy and Science Say So)


Thanking is an action that strengthens the best of humanity.

From the philosophical and metaphysical point of view, existence is considered from the notion of a lacking. When one considers that living is really surviving, this implies that we are not wholly autonomous and self-sufficient beings, and that we often need something that we do not have in order to save our lives. Food, the place we live in, affection, knowledge; almost anything we think of was obtained from someone else.

This circumstance has various implications for our lives, but one of these that we rarely contemplate is gratitude, that gesture that acknowledged both our own limitations and, on the other hand, how it is that we find in other people the means with which to go beyond our own limitations. Octavio Paz, upon receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1990, said:

I begin with two words that all men have uttered since the dawn of humanity: thank you. The word gratitude has equivalents in every language and in each tongue the range of meanings is abundant. In the Romance languages this breadth spans the spiritual and the physical, from the divine grace conceded to men to save them from error and death, to the bodily grace of the dancing girl or the feline leaping through the undergrowth. Grace means pardon, forgiveness, favour, benefice, inspiration; it is a form of address, a pleasing style of speaking or painting, a gesture expressing politeness, and, in short, an act that reveals spiritual goodness. Grace is gratuitous; it is a gift. The person who receives it, the favoured one, is grateful for it; if he is not base, he expresses gratitude.

Gratitude, in this sense, has a deep symbolic dimension. Its meaning moves in that symbolic field where we can understand it, reproduce it and, if the best comes to the best, fill it with meaning. To thank, and be grateful, taking into account the gratitude of another: all of these are situations in which our empathetic qualities are revealed, that strength of our species that is also linked to cooperation and collective living.

In contemporary neuroscience, gratitude has been revealed as a connection between different areas of the brain that appear to strengthen our human nature. According to research led by Glenn R. Fox, expressing gratitude activates the cerebral regions associated with moral cognition, the judgments of value and abstraction, that is the cingulate cortex, pre-fontal and middle cortex. At the same time, in a second instance zones intervene that are related to reward, satisfaction and positive emotions, specifically by perceiving that we can do good to another person. And lastly, it is worth mentioning that, according to that same research, gratitude leaves people another benefit: A deep, sensitive understanding, of a tragic event.

Being grateful then is a kind of habit inscribed in our existence, the master of its own poetry but also based on our most concrete physiological structure, a trait that, as we exercise it, strengthens the best of our humanity.

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