Greed or Gratitude?

In the midst of holiday season, it is easy to get caught up in the festivities and ignore something fundamental: your emotions.

As Dr. Catherine Franssen writes in the Huffington Post, the anticipation and receipt of gifts are both deeply tied with neural pathways that make us feel pleasure. This can be great, making us feel terrific, but it can also change our brain and outlook if we become disappointed. Instead of giving into this cycle, Dr. Franssen advocates the cultivation of another emotion: gratitude.

The desire to acquire pleasurable items is rooted in our hereditary need to obtain objects which might be crucial to survival. In Dr. Franssen’s view, humans evolved with this desire in order to drive them to more effectively search out food, shelter, or other necessary goals.

This resulted in greed, or the desire to possess something new, to become linked neurologically with the release of dopamine. This chemical, when released into the pleasure centers of our brain, quite simply makes us feel good. However, it also makes us want more and more to the point that modern humans often get addicted to the behaviors that reliably reward them with dopamine.

Unfortunately, reliance on these behaviors can change our brains as we adapt to the inevitable disappointment that arises when rewards do not materialize. This can lead to a deep level of stress, mistrust, and agitation, along with distinctly weakened immune systems.

With this in mind, take a look at the way people often behave around holiday season, especially given the crucial role of presents in most major winter holidays. The anticipation of being given a present or of eating rich food releases dopamine just as reliably as the achievement of those desires. At the same time, it is easy to be disappointed if the reality doesn’t quite meet those expectations.

This puts great pressure on everyone who is expected to give great gifts or host fantastic parties, converting what could be a pleasant time with family and friends to a stressful neurological nightmare. This is even exacerbated by advertisers who take the chance to barrage you with progressively higher expectations.

But Dr. Franssen doesn’t denounce or dismiss the holidays! On the contrary, she sees this time of the year as a perfect opportunity to practice gratitude. This involves affirming the positive impact of other people and showing thanks for it. She encourages each of us to cultivate feelings of gratitude, especially around the holidays, by affirming the positive support of other people in our lives and focusing on those relationships over material items.

Humintell has previously emphasized this very same point by describing the positive effects of gratitude on the mind and also on your health! We recognize that it isn’t as simple as this blog might make it sound, but there are many ways to improve your holiday experience either through mindfulness and meditation or by simply shifting your focus away from material consumption.

Either way, we wish you the happiest of holiday seasons!

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