The Mental Health Benefits of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is a complicated holiday for many people.  While it is the perfect opportunity to spend time with family and count our blessings, for some that is easier said than done.  Any number of elements could affect or change one’s ability to feel gratitude, from estranged family members to geographic distance from those we love. Those with mental health issues can also feel like they are being asked to ignore or deny the negative in favor of focusing on the positive.  However, this does not have to be the case as gratitude can help reframe thoughts or even improve mental health.

What are the benefits of gratitude?

The Happier Human blog breaks down the benefits of adding gratitude to your daily routine. The blog breaks down the benefits into sections such as personal, emotional, social, and physical. It also includes a lengthy article linking back to numerous scientific studies that have been performed on the benefits of practicing gratitude (Happier Human).

1) Focusing on what makes you feel thankful for even just 5 minutes a day has been proven to increase happiness and decrease feelings of depression (Happier Human). According to a 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy, “…Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder” (Psychology Today). Gratitude can improve mental resilience which makes it easier to cope with negative mental conditions.

2) Practicing gratitude opens you up to more relationships. “…A 2014 study published in Emotion…found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship” (Psychology Today). Gratitude can increase feelings of empathy and decrease aggression, which makes you a more attractive companion. Increased gratitude also improves relationships you already have, making it easier to deepen existing connections. Happier Human explains that increased gratitude can make you more optimistic and spiritual and less materialistic and self-centered. These positive changes make it easier for you to connect with others and to work on or eliminate negative relationships.

3) Giving more attention to what makes you grateful helps improve your physical health, as well. Focusing on the positive when you’re in pain or sick helps you recognize what is abnormal, and gives you more energy to focus on it and your recovery. Practitioners of gratitude also “…exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups, which is likely to contribute to further longevity” (Psychology Today). Happier Human rounded up the findings on physical health improvement related to gratitude. Increased gratitude can induce the relaxation response, lower blood pressure, increase vitality and energy, and even extend your lifespan (Happier Human).

4) Even more than all this, increased gratitude has benefits in the workplace, and can positively affect your career path. Gratitude decreases the likelihood of jealousy or resentment towards your peers, which boosts your own self-esteem. When you focus more on the positive and reframe your thoughts, you clear the way for improving your skills, focusing on your achievements, and working towards your own goals. According to Happier Human, “Gratitude makes you a more effective manager, helps you network, increases your decision making capabilities, increases your productivity, and helps you get mentors and proteges” (Happier Human).

How to integrate gratitude into your daily life (beyond Thanksgiving).

With all these benefits, there is no reason to limit your gratitude practice to November. There are many ways to add gratitude practice into your daily life,  regardless of your lifestyle.  you can do everything from a few minutes tallying what you are grateful for to adding meditative studies or regular journaling exercises to your routine.

1) Writing in a gratitude journal, or adding a gratitude section to your current organizational system, helps you recognize the positive even in a worst-case scenario. Doing this before bed can improve both the quality and quantity of sleep that you get  (Psychology Today). This can improve your mood and even help with some mental illnesses. “A 2003 paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people with neuromuscular diseases who kept ‘gratitude journals’ reported a greater sense of well-being and more positive moods at the end of the study, compared with those who didn’t make such lists” (Newsweek). You can the short list or spend time thinking about why the things you list make you feel grateful and write longer entries if you’d like.

2) The website “Gratitude Habitat” recommends auditory or visual reminders to practice gratitude throughout the day. You can set alarms on your phone or computer,  and add sticky notes or other visual reminders to your work and living space (Gratitude Habitat).

3) Actively reframing your thoughts is something that will take practice, but makes a huge difference to the amount of gratitude in your life. Instead of focusing on the negative or looking at things from a fatalistic point of view, you can choose to see the good in every situation. The website Zen Habits explains several examples of how to add this to your daily life. One of the ways to actively reframe your thoughts is to catch yourself in a negative train of thought and instead right down a gratitude list or focus on the positives of the situation in your mind (Zen Habits).

4) Keep a gratitude token to encourage positive thoughts. Keep a small token like a rock or charm in your pocket, purse, or wallet. Whenever you see it or touch it, focus in on a positive thought and take account of how it makes you feel. Having a physical representation of gratitude helps interrupt negative thoughts, or help you add some positive thoughts to your day.

Gratitude is something that can easily be added to your life–not just during the holidays, but year round. There are many ways to actively seek gratitude daily, and even more positive effects to your mental health as a result.

Sources

Adamski, Carol. “12 Ways to Bring Gratitude Into Your Life.” https://gratitudehabitat.com/2012/11/12-ways-to-bring-gratitude-into-your-life/; Gratitude Habitat.

Amin, Amit. “The Science of Gratitude: More Benefits Than Expected; 26 Studies and Counting.” http://happierhuman.com/the-science-of-gratitude/; Happier Human.

Amin, Amit. “The 31 Benefits of Gratitude You Didn’t Know About: How Gratitude Can Change Your Life.” http://happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/; Happier Human.

Morin, Amy. “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude.” https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude; Psychology Today.

“8 Tremendously Important Ways That Gratitude Can Change Your Life.” https://zenhabits.net/8-tremendously-important-ways-that-gratitude-can-change-your-life/; Zen Habits.

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