Evidence continues to support the idea that positive psychological interventions such as gratitude practice and gratitude writing can greatly improve the overall mental health of depressed and non-depressed individuals alike. Gratitude is a powerful tool that is often used to complement additional psychological and psychiatric counseling to yield improvements in mood and brain functioning. Study after study indicates that happier people tend to count their blessings exponentially more than individuals who experience mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. The effects of gratitude on mental health are as equally promising as they are startling.
Gratitude Writing: The Abstract
The linked study above followed 300 adults – mostly college students – that were seeking mental health services at a nearby university. This differs from traditional gratitude studies that generally follow adults with a stable level of mental health. The majority of these adults reported above-average levels of anxiety and depression. The groups were divided into three categories; while all groups received psychiatric counseling, one group did no writing, one group was asked to write a gratitude letter to a person every week for three weeks, and one group was tasked with writing about feelings related to a negative experience that previously happened in their life.
The group that was tasked with writing a gratitude letter every week for three weeks reported vast improvements in mental health and stability at the 4-week and 12-week marks after the study was concluded; however, the group that was asked not to write and the group that wrote about negative experiences both showed little signs of improvement in their mental health. The findings are quite telling: this suggests that gratitude writing is not just beneficial for well-adjusted adults – it can be used in conjunction with psychiatric counseling to treat depression and anxiety as well.
It was shown that the group tasked with the gratitude writing used substantially more positive emotion words than the ones tasked with writing about negative experiences; however, not all of the writers of the gratitude letters experienced a lift from their depression and anxiety. It was found that the people who received the most benefit from the gratitude writing did so only when there was a lack of negative emotion words in their writing. This suggests that a shift away from negative thinking can ultimately produce a greater sense of happiness and life fulfillment. By shifting the attention away from negative emotions such as envy and resentment – and towards emotions that foster gratitude, it becomes much harder to ruminate on the negative experiences of your past or current life.
More Benefits of Gratitude
The benefits of gratitude extend far beyond a clinical setting. Showing genuine appreciation for others has a slew of amazing benefits:
- Healthier relationships. Studies have found that people who genuinely express their gratitude in social situations have healthier relationships, more friends, and a healthier social life.
- Better physical health. According to a study in Personality and Individual Differences, grateful people exercise more often, have fewer aches and pains, go to the doctor regularly, and take better care of their health.
- Better mental health. Practicing gratitude reduces the amount of negative emotions that people experience. It’s hard to foster resentment, regret, and envy when you are counting your blessings and the joys of life.
- Better sleep hygiene. Spending just 15 minutes a day writing down a few grateful sentiments can help you sleep longer, according to a study in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-being. Individuals who wrote a gratitude list before bed ultimately slept better and longer.
- Stronger mental fortitude. Gratitude can reduce stress, improve the quality of your life, and help individuals affected with PTSD overcome trauma. Gratitude has been a powerful tool for war veterans and traumatized individuals alike.
- Gratitude improves your patience. Patiently waiting and being grateful for the present moment is better than agonizing over what may happen in the future.
- An increased sense of empathy. Being grateful for the thoughts and experiences you are feeling can open the door to a new level of empathy for many people. It is hard to retaliate when someone lashes out with anger if you are filled with gratitude. It can make you question what that person may be going through in that moment, instead of taking the outburst personally.
Closing Thoughts on Gratitude
Gratitude can help improve your mental health, which is something that all psychologists and psychiatrists try to do for their patients. Gratitude enables people to strengthen their positive emotions, remove their sense of entitlement, learn from their mistakes, embrace the emotional waves of life, practice self-compassion and self-love, and inspire positive change.
Being the master of your own happiness takes hard work, courage, and patience. Do not fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others; rather, focus on what you have and how you can improve yourself. People with a strong mental fortitude are responsible for their own happiness. At the same time, they deal with stress and anger differently when compared to a population that does not regularly practice gratitude.
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