Thank you, Viola!

2015-2016 Season, Play, Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

I have always thought it a good thing to be grateful; it was mannerly, sensitive, a sign of good breeding (though the word breeding bothered me…I’m not a race horse or show dog). But recent articles in science and medical journals suggest an act of gratitude may carry the weight of more than a simple courtesy. And what does all this have to do with Shakespeare and Twelfth Night…wait for it, wait for it.

In modern research, psychologists tell us the brain might be seen as having a gratitude muscle that needs to be exercised and be “cultivated through practice” so that your thankfulness “can spiral”. Surely you‘ve heard the term “pay it forward” but did you know the good doctor might prescribe some gratitude intervention for the sole purpose of making you feel better, more happy with life? It would seem that “the more thankful we feel, the more likely we are to act pro-socially toward others, causing them to feel grateful and setting up a beautiful virtuous cascade.”

To put it even more scientifically with the aid of Dr. Christian Jarrett, editor of the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog: there are “profound” and “long-lasting” neural effects in the brain and this is nowhere more evident than in the “pregenual anterior cingulate,” which shows increased sensitivity and is involved in predicting the effects of one’s own actions on other people.

In Act III, scene iv, Twelfth Night’s lovely Viola had it right: “I hate ingratitude more in a man than lying, vainness, babbling, drunkenness, or any taint of vice whose strong corruption inhabits our frail blood.”

And in regard to this so-called neurological footprint of gratitude, may I remind you how often your mother and first therapist whispered to you: “Say thank you!”


Dr. Christian Jarrett,  (@Psych_Writer on twitter