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Gratitude as a Unique Emotion

Karen Dobkins helps us better understand how gratitude can be experienced through the mind and body.
<v ->So Karen, some people confuse joy and gratitude,</v> and I know I’ve heard you speak about the difference between the two. Could you tell us about what the difference between joy and gratitude is? <v ->Sure. I mean, obviously</v> there’s overlap between joy and gratitude, but if I had to distinguish them, I would say that joy is more a body-based emotion, and it sort of bubbles up without intention.
You know, you can’t help it When you see a friend that you haven’t seen in a long time, your body flushes with joy or a woman having a baby that comes out of her that’s like a very body-based joy that she feels, and there’s a lot of hormones involved in joy, including dopamine and oxytocin. They really are sort of released and almost make you feel high, so to speak. Where as gratitude is more of a slowing down intentional practice.
It’s a little bit more cognitive than joy, but I will say this, even though gratitude is more intentional a little bit more cognitive based, it can be experienced in the body through something that’s called awe and this is something that my lab is interested in studying which is this feeling of like, you go out camping and you see the Milky Way in the stars, and all over sudden you see that you’re just one little dot on this blue-green planet that’s rotating around the Sun and you understand like, oh my God, everything is connected and it can feel like a flush of, oh, I am connected. I’m so grateful that I’m here having this experience as a human, yeah.
<v ->That’s awesome.</v> I love that. I don’t have a follow up question. So (laughs) but I guess, what I’ll ask you is, this could either be recorded or not recorded depending on how you want, but is there anything else about like research or science in gratitude in your lab that you would like to share?
<v ->I mean, I can say this,</v> I don’t know if it will fit in, but I’ll just say it. So my graduate student, Andy Arnold and I have been looking at the relationship between trusting one’s body and loneliness, and loneliness itself is related to gratitude there’s a lot of factors like gratitude and loneliness and wellbeing and body trust are all interrelated but I thought I would give a shout out to the finding that comes up over and over again which is that people who have more trust in their bodies, who trust their body signals. And I’ve been talking a lot today about the body has signals for us that are intelligent, that are giving us information.
People who trust those signals are much less lonely than people who don’t trust the signals. And if you ever wanna be back to talk about why that is, I am happy to do so.
<v ->You wanna touch on why that is briefly?</v> <v ->I think one of the ways humans suffer</v> is that they get out of alignment with themselves. And what I mean by that is your body is telling you one thing, but you’re saying something different. You know, it might look like a friend who is clearly mad at you and says, I’m not mad, I’m not mad. It’s like, that’s a misalignment and the body knows and the body gets confused and says, well, wait, why are you saying you’re not mad when we’re telling you with all of this, you know, inside reactions that you’re mad. And that’s a type of misalignment, and nobody wins.
The person who’s expressing the misalignment there’s confusion within them. The person who’s receiving that misalignment is confused because something is not adding up. It’s when you get a weird feeling after a conversation, you go, why did I get, I walked away having a weird feeling versus you know, nobody loves to be yelled at, but it’d be more genuine, if your friend said, yeah, I am mad at you, and I just need to tell you I’m really mad, not pleasant, but at least not confusing.
So one of the things that my lab studies and again, Andy Arnold and Piotr Winkielman, both at UC San Diego with me we’re interested in, whether you are able to use your internal signals, it’s called interoception. And it really is a science of being able to internally sense what’s going on in the body. Like maybe your heart rate, your breathing rate, whether your hands are clammy, whether you’re hot or cold. And there’s evidence from our lab and other labs that it’s generally better to have a good sense of your body.
If you have a good sense of your body, you tend to be happier, you tend to be less lonely and so that’s one of the results from our labs, but I’m trying to tell you why this would be. If I trust my body signals then I can be in alignment with myself I can actually say, look, you know what my heart rate is going up I can feel that something is not right inside me. I better wake up, wake up like a rooster. Something is wrong and I need to name it. I need to name it and be honest with myself about what’s happening.
Once I have the ability to get aligned with myself, to trust my body signals, to tell me what it’s trying to tell me I’m mad ,I’m happy, I’m sad I’m embarrassed, I’m guilty, whatever it is then I can effectively communicate with another person. I can’t really communicate with them if I’m not first aware of what’s happening in me. So if I can be aware of what’s going on in me, and I’m honest with myself, well, then I can be honest with you. And if you and I have honesty between us really saying in almost a moment, by moment way, what’s happening for each of us, we’re gonna have a good connection and we’re not gonna be lonely.
And to be clear, loneliness has nothing to do with how many people are around you. Loneliness has to do with how well you feel connected to other people. So I hope that makes sense. If I’ve trusted my body, at least signals which are giving me a lot of information, I can be honest with me and if I can be honest with me I can be honest with you and if we’re honest with each other we will have a solid connection.
<v ->Thanks for sharing, Karen.</v> It’s super interesting. <v ->Yeah.</v>

Gratitude has very real and unique effects on the mind and body.

Watch this interview with Karen Dobkins, Professor of Psychology at UC San Diego, as she provides insights into how gratitude is unique among emotions and how mindfulness fits in.

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