Next, Karns wanted to know whether, by changing how much gratitude people felt, she could change the way the brain reacts to giving and getting. So she split participants into two groups. Over three weeks, one group journaled about the things they were grateful for, while the other group journaled about other (non-gratitude-specific) happenings in their lives.
The result? The people in the gratitude-journaling contingent reported experiencing more thankfulness. And the reward regions of their brain started responding more to charitable giving than to gaining money for themselves.
As Karns writes: "Practicing gratitude shifted the value of giving in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. It changed the exchange rate in the brain. Giving to charity became more valuable than receiving money yourself. After the brain calculates the exchange rate, you get paid in the neural currency of reward, the delivery of neurotransmitters that signal pleasure and goal attainment."
I think these findings are pretty amazing. For those of us who don’t always find resonant the old adage that “giving is better than receiving” (I don’t know about you, but, um, I really like getting gifts!), Karns’s research offers a useful amendment: Giving really can be better — if you make it so. You can proactively choose to retrain your brain so it gets more pleasure out of giving.
It also occurs to me that there’s a potentially powerful, pragmatic takeaway here: If increasing people’s gratitude is an effective way to increase their charitableness (and there are other studies in support of this notion), then maybe it’s worth nudging people to cultivate more gratitude?
For now, we’ve got at least one such nudge built into our calendar: Thanksgiving. If Karns is right about the power of gratitude, this holiday may actually create the perfect conditions for us to be more charitable a few days later on Giving Tuesday.
Personally, though, I find her research compelling enough that I think cultivating gratitude merits more than a day of practice per year. So I’ve decided to run her experiment on myself (minus the MRI): For the next three weeks, I’m going to keep a gratitude journal.
I don’t think it’ll magically turn me into Mother Teresa, but maybe it’ll make me slightly more prone to acting charitably — and enjoying it. visit us on https://bit.ly/2kLu7zG