I’m studying the role of empathy in patient, physician communication, and specifically how physician empathy can influence patient outcomes and improve patient wellbeing. And what I’m really interested in also is how gratefulness really integrates with that concept of empathy… ~ Vishal

In the summer of 2020, while all of us around the globe were isolated in some way from those we love, award-winning photographer and filmmaker Doug Menuez found a way for us to gather safely, outdoors, to listen closely to the stories of seven individuals for whom grateful living is a way of life. The result of Doug’s beautiful work is a new video series, Grateful Voices.  In the short film and narrative below Vishal, who generously participated in the project, shares his story.

Vishal’s Story

“The awakening for gratefulness really came from my craving for this internship in my field. It was a company in Boston, very big company. All throughout my undergraduate degree, I had been trying to attain this internship. It was the thing that really consumed my mind. And I had tried and failed at getting a position at this place. Eventually I actually succeeded, and I was able to secure a position at the company.

And while the moment of accepting that offer was a happy moment, there was really kind of transient and dissipating contentment with that. Almost immediately, the next moment, I was thinking about what do I need to do next? And, what’s the next thing that I need to achieve? In that moment, it kind of dawned on me how disappointing that kind of striving that I had built up felt.

Over a short period of time, that led me to really reflect on what’s more meaningful. Rather than something as high as maybe an achievement or as materialistic as an internship, I tried to reflect on more spiritual things.

After I had reflected on what achieving this position in this company had actually felt like for me and the implications on my actual life and my actual wellbeing — it was a transient feeling. It was an empty feeling. Based on that feeling, I reflected on something that could possibly be more sustainable, which led me into educating myself on spiritual and contemplative traditions. Within that, I kind of stumbled upon gratitude and the practice of gratitude as something that you can do on a daily basis and invoke in your life to really improve your experience moment to moment. And brighten your life up in a really profound way.

I was generally interested in the concept of health and what wellbeing meant to both ourselves in our individual lives, in our interaction with the world, but also on our day-to-day basis. That led me into some of the more traditional approaches to health in our country — things like policy and structures and healthcare systems and more of the clinical side.

After I got more deep into understanding contemplative practices, I tried to integrate it into my work and my current research. Right now, I’m in a PhD program at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. And what I’m researching is how the patient-physician interaction and communication and how physician empathy in that communication influences patient outcomes and patient wellbeing. I think there are a lot of potential implications that we could understand by this relationship. This human element, this personal element — almost intuitively, we recognize it as something necessary for our health and wellbeing.

Once you bring that presence of gratitude in your interactions with others, you can’t help but really kind of see the value and see the divinity in them. This experience of gratitude in my life, impacts the world around me in the way that I interact with others. If this idea and this movement of gratitude in people was more widespread, and it was adopted by everyone around the world, the way I see the world unfolding is more — I guess you would call it a slow-paced and more paused world in moments. Where instead of reacting to one another and becoming overly emotional at times, we’re able to reflect. We’re able to take pause in those moments and be really grateful for simply the experience of being, and being around one another.”

We invite you to share comments in the space below the video transcript which follows.

Video Transcript

So for me, the experience and the emotion of gratitude has, has evolved over time. I think in the past it would infrequently and kind of unintentionally come up in new experiences. For example when I was traveling through Southeast Asia and India, small things, but really small things that we take for granted, like breathing air that — without really smelling anything. Breathing clean air. Having access to clean water. Moments like that, and just witnessing people in their own circumstances, dealing with these things, kind of — had me reflect on these things in my own life.

But now over time, as I’ve kind of integrated gratitude more and more in my life, it’s become a — something that I invoke personally and in solitude on a daily basis. And whether I’m feeling overwhelmed or pressured or stressed or anxious, it’s something that in a moment I can reflect on, I could think about, and almost instantaneously change my experience in a positive way. And while in that way, it’s, for me, it’s solitary and it’s confined to my own reflection, it’s really profound. 

I’m studying the role of empathy in patient, physician communication, and specifically how physician empathy can influence patient outcomes and improve patient wellbeing. And what I’m really interested in also is how gratefulness really integrates with that concept of empathy, and how gratitude in both physicians and, and patients can, can kind of uplift that relationship and really amplify the, the empathy experience between the two in the relationship.

So in my view, gratitude and empathy and compassion are deeply intertwined. And they both require a deep introspection and self-reflection in order to invoke, and for me if you become grateful for something, grateful for moments in your life, experiences in your life, and you kind of contemplate on this gratitude, it permeates a kind of presence and positivity outward because really there’s no other way to invoke gratitude without feeling a kind of positivity. And that positivity is really present in these notions of empathy and compassion.

Thank you, Doug Menuez and team, including Executive Producer Pear Urushima, Director of Photography Luke Carquillat, and Sound Technician/Gaffer Dino Davaros, for the grace and heart you bring to your work in making it possible for the diverse stories of grateful living to be shared.

To watch more films in this series, visit Grateful Voices.

Grateful Voices