Our gratitude practice may help others as much as ourselves
We know there are plentiful benefits for the person who practices gratitude...Better sleep, better mood, stronger immune systems, less pain, it goes on and on. So if you are reading the latest neuroscience (or this blog), you know that being grateful is a sound strategy to better health. But do you think the more grateful you are, the more likely you are to be generous to others? A recent study last month looked at this very question.
Individuals were put into two groups and given either gratitude focused journaling (about people or events they were grateful for) or regular journaling about events and people in their lives for three weeks. And those in the gratitude group showed activity on functional MRI brain studies in the areas of the brain connected to pure altruism. They then were more likely to give in the form of donations to charity.
It was a small study and of short duration but I thought there was an important takeaway here.
Gratitude practice changed brain activity and makes us more likely to care about the state of the world at large.
My hypothesis about this is that there are two big reasons this could happen. For one, when we are thankful for our lives, we are in a better mental state to care about lives around us. Put quite simply, we cannot act or do for others when we have not taken care of ourselves. Our self-care is critical and gratitude can be one of the ways we practice this.
When we care for ourselves, we can better care for the world.
And secondly, when we are present to our gratitude for the people or events in our lives, we then connect to ourselves and the world around us in more powerful ways. When we are more connected, we can open our heart to compassion more easily. One of the most powerful neuroscience elements of compassion is to see the humanness in others and then be able to have empathy. Think how this can flow easier if you are looking for gratitude in your present life?
When we connect to the world around us, we are more likely to feel compassion.
Of course, one could argue there need to be more studies and I am hopeful there will be. But for such a non-toxic intervention, I would encourage you to not wait for the studies. See for yourself if regular gratitude practice makes you more willing to give to others. We know that individuals who give to others, financially or in service, can feel mood benefits. So this could be a double win for those who give and those who receive!
Live (and give) well,