How Gratitude Alters the Brain and Can Impact Bullying Recovery

Cultivating gratitude can help kids overcome bullying

happy/thankful teen boy

New research suggests that cultivating gratitude not only promotes day-to-day wellbeing and increases optimism but it also alters the brain. In fact, a new brain imaging study found that the more people practice gratitude, the more it becomes a way of life for them.

Additionally, gratitude promotes a sense of peace and contentment. It also helps people look at the positive things in their lives rather than dwell on the negative.

As a result, some researchers believe that cultivating gratitude among victims of bullying may actually help them deal more effectively with negative situations in their lives like bullying.  

More About the Study

Indiana University researchers, led by Prathik Kini, recruited 43 people who were being treated for anxiety or depression. Twenty-two of them were assigned to a gratitude intervention. Meanwhile, the other participants were the control group.

For the first few sessions, those assigned to the gratitude group spent 20 minutes writing thank you letters. Sending the letters after the sessions was left up to them. Three months later, all 43 participants participated in a “Pay It Forward” gratitude task in a brain scanner.

During these brain scans the participants were told that a benefactor had given them a sum of money. Then, they were asked whether they would like to donate a portion of the funds to charity as an expression of their gratitude.

Those who gave away money showed a particular pattern of activity in their brains during the scans. Researchers felt these patterns were directly related to the gratitude they felt.

What’s more, researchers found that the more money a participant gave away, and the stronger the feelings of gratitude, the more activity they exhibited during the scans.

Interestingly, these patterns appeared somewhat different from those patterns that usually appear during scans that are testing for emotions like empathy. This fact implies that gratitude is a unique emotion.

How Does It Apply?

What researchers also found is that those who had completed the gratitude task reported feeling more gratefulness two weeks after the task than those in the control group. Researchers described this as “profound” and “long-lasting.”

The results suggest that even months after a simple, short gratitude writing task, a person’s brain is still wired to feel extra thankful. This suggests that gratitude tasks are self-perpetuating nature and can have lasting effects on those who practice gratitude.

What can be concluded is that the more kids who have been bullied express gratitude for the other things in their lives, the more their brain adapts to this mindset. This phenomenon could alleviate victim-thinking and help kids reframe their circumstances. Additionally, gratitude could be instrumental in helping them put the bullying in the past by focusing on the positive things in their lives.

It also could help open their minds to positive thinking and problem-solving.

Although these results are only preliminary, most would argue that the more effort victims of bullying make to be grateful despite their circumstances, the more the feeling will come spontaneously in the future. In other words, the more they practice gratitude, the more attuned they are to it and the more they can enjoy its psychological benefits. Some would even argue this could reduce the depth to which they experience the consequences of bullying.

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