The Impact of Gratitude On Your Mental Health
In 2020 we had the horrendous Australian bushfires, the social and political unrest in America, locust plagues in Africa and the Middle East, the COVID19 pandemic impacting and changing how the world socially functions, natural disasters of hurricanes and earthquakes, increasing political instability and the tensions of regional and international conflicts and wars.
We may feel that 2020 was the worse year to be alive. In fact, many could not wait for the year to pass so that we could have a fresh start. The global issues may have impacted some on a personal level – it could have meant that you had lost your job, lost a loved one or family member, been displaced socially, become homeless, etc. Being grateful with all the madness and chaos would understandably be the last thing on your mind. But learning to cultivate the habit of gratitude may actually be good for your well-being.
What is gratefulness or gratitude?
In psychology terms, gratitude is a positive emotional response that we perceive on giving or receiving a benefit from someone else (Emmons & McCullough, 2004). It is a spontaneous feeling that makes one feel happier. There has been an increased research on the benefits of being grateful. What is interesting is that it is not a modern intervention, in fact the early Christian church was encouraged to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks (gratefulness) in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
Gratitude means intentionally acknowledging the things that others have done for you and the things you already have. By being grateful we intentionally engage our pre-frontal cortex (thinking brain) and disengage our fears and worries. The effects of gratitude may not be immediate and may not miraculously appear. It requires intentionality and sustainability and when regularly practised it can have a huge impact on your psychological well-being for years.
What does research say?
Gratitude improves friendship, relationships and social affiliations. - Students’ connectedness is linked to higher gratitude and self-efficacy outcomes (2020) - https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.105210 - Warm thanks: Gratitude expression facilitates social affiliation in new relationships via perceived warmth (2014) - https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000017 - Gratitude for Help among Adult Friends and Siblings (2014) - https://doi.org/10.1177/147470491401200401
Gratitude improves general health – Fewer aches, pains, feelings of being healthier than others, improves sleep, etc. - A systematic review of gratitude interventions: Effects on physical health and health behaviors (2020) - https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychores.2020.110165 - Examining the pathways between gratitude and self-rated physical health across adulthood (2012) - https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2012.08.011 - Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions (2005) - https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.60.5.410
Gratitude improves mental and psychological health – Reduces stress and depressive symptoms - Improving mental health in health care practitioners: Randomized controlled trial of a gratitude intervention (2014) - https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037895 - Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention (2013) - https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22020 - The role of gratitude in the development of social support, stress, and depression : two longitudinal studies (2008) - https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2007.11.003 - Gratitude and hedonic and eudaimonic well-being in Vietnam war veterans (2006) - https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2005.01.005
Gratitude improves self-esteem - Gratitude Enhances Change in Athletes’ Self-Esteem: The Moderating Role of Trust in Coach (2011) - https://doi.org/10.1080/10413200.2014.889255
Gratitude improves healthy eating behaviour - Gratitude facilitates healthy eating behavior in adolescents and young adults (2020) - https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2018.08.011
Gratitude improves sleep - Effects of Constructive Worry, Imagery Distraction, and Gratitude Interventions on Sleep Quality: A Pilot Trial (2011) - https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1758-0854.2011.01049.x
Gratitude impacts learning engagement - The influence of gratitude on learning engagement among adolescents: The multiple mediating effects of teachers' emotional support and students’ basic psychological needs (2020) - https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2019.09.006
Gratitude reduces burnout and increases job satisfaction - Burnout from emotion regulation at work: The moderating role of gratitude (2020) - https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2019.109703 - Improving mental health in health care practitioners: Randomized controlled trial of a gratitude intervention (2012) - https://doi.org/10.17744/mehc.34.4.w35q80w11kgpqn26
Gratitude increases empathy and reduces aggression - A Grateful Heart is a Nonviolent Heart: Cross-Sectional, Experience Sampling, Longitudinal, and Experimental Evidence (2011) - https://DOI.org/10.1177/1948550611416675
How to cultivate gratitude
Say Thank You Thanking someone and explaining how the person’s behaviour or actions have helped you. It does not only increase your gratitude levels but nurtures your relationship.
Thank you notes/cards Take time to write a note or a thank you card to say you appreciate a person.
Gratitude Journal Writing down what you are grateful for and how that has impacted you. Journals are great because you can go back to them and reflect on the chronological impact it has on your life. Journaling is also a great way to help you process stuck thoughts and emotions as it helps connect both the right brain (processes emotions & big picture) and the left brain (processes logic, language, list, sequence, etc.).
Gratitude Board A visual board with pictures, objects and positive words or statements of gratitude that you have personally accumulated over time. Being intentional about viewing and reflecting on the board is key.
Pray/Meditate Praying and mediating has been a common religious practice to help increase gratefulness.
Disclaimer: The material on this blog is not to be used by any commercial or personal entity without expressed written consent of the blog's author. The article above is an opinion of an individual clinician and should not be taken as full clinical advice. The statements on this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any mental health or mental illnesses. Always consult your doctor for medical advice or seek professional therapy.