Crisp November gently beckons fire-side chats, warm knitted scarfs and fragrant kitchens redolent of home scents. This month, a thankful attitude lifts spirits and encourages kind actions. Despite its psychological benefit, gratitude is elusive, not inherent and difficult to define. Some psychologists contend that gratitude is the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself. What defines meaning in our brain and how does gratitude carve out its neural pathways?
The first story I read in a foreign language was Little Red Riding Hood. Towards the end, when the wolf inched closer and closer to eating the child, I wasn't frightened. In fact, I was slightly bored and closed the book disappointed. As a child learning a second language, I immediately sensed a difference in the weight and impact of the words. The scientific term for this sorcery is "attenuation of emotionality.” Studies show that emotional intensity is fundamentally different in non-native readers. Why are emotions more powerful in a native language?
Those wily women with eyes 'false in rolling', who change their moods and affections like chameleons." Sonnet 20, William Shakespeare
400 years ago when the brilliant Shakespeare first penned this keen observation, commenting on the ever-changing nature of a woman's spirit, the knowledge that a woman's emotions could fluctuate with her hormones was unknown. The first hormone would not be discovered for another 300 years, and shortly after - the components of the menstrual cycle would be elucidated. Given the rapid advancement of science in the twenty first century and the ease with which peering into the brain has become; one would think the influence of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone on cortical and subcortical regions implicated in a woman's emotional and cognitive processes would be fully understood. Not so.
After eating one banana at 10’oclock precisely, she begins furiously drawing on the nearest blank sheet of paper. Her hand moves as if possessed, compulsively and rapidly sketching the same inane subjects from the day before. The irrepressible urge to create results in a complete neglect of her personal hygiene. Later, she gathers her pictures in a neat pile and binge eats an entire box of cookies. This isn’t a starving artist preparing for an opening show. This is Mrs. YCFZ, an 83 yr old patient never notably interested in art, diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia.
Wherever you are reading this, take a moment now and notice your body: Are your legs crossed? Is your posture straight or are you slouching? Are you slightly warm or cold? Now notice your surroundings: Is your body in a serene or noxious environment? Is it being transported in a moving vehicle, rocking slightly from side to side? If you could precisely answer any of those questions, congratulations, you are conscious. How consciousness arises from, as the great neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran mused, "a three-pound mass of jelly that you can hold in your palm" is one of science's deepest enigmas.