“Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.” ~William Faulkner
At Thanksgiving many of us reflect on what we are grateful for… and what’s for dinner. While a client was discussing gratitude with me, they asked if gratitude and altruism stemmed from social constructs alone or if one’s brain could be hardwired towards feeling more gratitude. While some of us are conditioned by our families or society to give back, are we truly giving back because we feel pleasure in doing so? The answer to that question is found in our brain.
Gratitude and being altruistic have a positive impact in our lives along with rewarding the pleasure center in our brain. Simply put, doing good feels good. Where do altruism and gratitude stem from? Are we hardwired for the desire to help someone? Or can we train our brains for gratitude?
Are We Hardwired For Gratitude?
Abigail Marsh, Associate Professor at Georgetown University, has conducted studies on altruism and the brain. Her findings are remarkable. Her interview, Why People Take Risks To Help Others: Altruisms Root In The Brain, on NPR discussed the extremes in altruism. Marsh discusses how the brain of a true altruist has a larger amygdala, “it’s an almond-shaped cluster of nerves; it’s our emotional radar. And it was significantly larger in altruists.” While Marsh’s research focuses primarily on organ donation and cases of altruism that are life and death, her findings still hold merit for individuals that want to express gratitude, feel gratitude and give back. Which leads us to how you can wire your brain for gratitude.