By Kabir Basu, Grade 8
Many people consider gratitude a product of polite society, perfunctorily performed, with no tangible reward towards oneself. However, this may not be completely true. Studies show that gratitude benefits you more than you realize.
One such test was carried out on three groups of people. The first group was instructed to write letters of gratitude, the second was instructed to write about their daily concerns, and the third was instructed to not write at all. One might think, “Gratitude letters? What difference would such an insignificant act make?” Well, surprisingly enough, the group using words of gratitude reported better mental health for nearly 12 weeks after this exercise. But why? How can five minutes of letter writing rewire the brain to improve a person? The ‘Greater Good Magazine’, a science-based online journal, analyzed the results of the experiment, to find that the group that wrote the letters used a higher percentage of positive words in their future communication than the others, resulting in a more positive mindset.
To further this experiment, an Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner measured the brain activity of these participants during a particularly interesting activity: their brain function was monitored as they donated sums of money to charitable causes. During this experiment, the scans revealed that people who had written gratitude letters, and felt truly grateful, had increased neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex. This section of the brain is responsible for decision making and learning. This means that those who had experienced gratitude had increased capability in decision making and judgement. Clearly a benefit.
A similar experiment was carried out by psychologists Dr. Robert Emmons and Dr. Michael McCullough, who discovered that along with the medial prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex also showed increased neural sensitivity during experiences of gratitude. The anterior cingulate cortex is primarily associated with morality, empathy and judgement. Yet another benefit. Additionally, subjects also reported lower fatigue, depression, anxiety and inflammation, reducing chances of heart failure.
So what can be made from this study? Gratitude can change the way you think, and the moods you go through, obviously, for the better. So, if your brain was a machine, gratitude would be a pint of oil to grease its gears.