Using a Gratitude Journal Changes Your Brain

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The Gist

A recent study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found that women who wrote in gratitude journals for a period of three weeks had notable changes in their brain, leading to more generous traits. This change was made in oxygen metabolism in cells in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which has previously been linked to altruism. Researchers found that those who wrote in gratitude journals felt a higher reward when money went to a local food bank over receiving the money themselves. 


Gratitude Journal Study

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Gratitude journals have gained popularity recently, as a means of self-care. The journals are meant to remind users of the good things in their lives, something that becomes especially helpful for those dealing with hard times or mental health issues. And, it turns out the practice might actually change the way your brain works. 

A recent study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found this to be true in 16 women who made daily gratitude entries in an online journal. Compared to the 17 women who journaled neutrally, those in the gratitude group were more likely to prefer watching money being donated to a local food bank rather than receive the money themselves. 

The researchers used MRI scans to view the changes, one at the beginning of the study and one three weeks after journaling. What they found was a change in oxygen metabolism in cells in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain that other studies have linked to altruism. 

“When we are counting our blessings, this part of the brain is giving us this neural currency that makes us literally richer,” says lead researcher Christina Karns, a research associate in the psychology department at the University of Oregon. “Making use of this neural currency, giving is something that is done with a grateful heart, with a feeling of your own abundance for what others have done for you."

Karns noted that more research will be needed to know if these changes are long-term.