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Gratitude Can Boost Your Mental Health


Giving thanks is healthy any time, but this time of year brings gratitude to the forefront of our minds. Maybe you even have a Thanksgiving tradition of sharing with each other something you were grateful for in the past year. But did you know that expressing gratitude regularly has proven mental health benefits? 

If you’re struggling with your mental health, it’s important that you receive professional treatment that may include therapy, medication, or a combination of both. But when it comes to maintaining your mental health day to day, gratitude can be a powerful addition to your self-care toolbox. Let’s take a look. 

Gratitude is Evidence-Based

The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, put gratitude to the test in a 2016 study of college students receiving counseling for mental health issues like depression and anxiety. The study of 300 students divided participants into three groups for the 3-week study: the first group was asked to write one letter of gratitude to a different person each week; the second group was asked to journal their thoughts and feelings about their negative experiences; and the third group did not have any writing activity. 

The study found that the students who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health than the other two groups at four and 12 weeks after the study. 

The researchers went on to posit four possible insights from the study: 

  1. Gratitude helps us direct our attention away from negative emotions
  2. Gratitude helps even if you keep it to yourself. The participants who wrote the gratitude letters never sent them. It was the writing experience alone that created the shift in mental health. 
  3. The good effects of gratitude may take some time to manifest. In the study, the gratitude letter group didn’t immediately experience a change in their mental health–the improvement took at least a month to become evident but continued to deepen over time. 
  4. Gratitude changes your brain. Follow-up studies with the participants revealed that “practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, and this could contribute to improved mental health over time.”

According to Harvard Health, other studies on gratitude have suggested the following: 

  • Gratitude can improve relationships: “For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.”
  • Gratitude from managers can help employees feel motivated to work harder.
  • Writing about what you’re grateful for each week leads to much more optimism and even physical wellness than writing about what irritates you each week. 

Gratitude is Easy

If you want to do a cost-benefit analysis, it’s pretty clear that gratitude comes out on top. It’s completely free, it doesn’t take much time, and it can have a significant positive impact on your mental health. 

But wait, you might say. My life is pretty miserable right now. I’m depressed, I don’t have any friends I can count on, I hate my job, my partner is toxic, and my dog needs a surgery I can’t afford. What can I be thankful for??

If you’re in a tough situation right now, struggling to keep your head above water, is gratitude for you? We would argue that yes, it is. (Before that, we’d say we’re really sorry you’re having such a hard time! We’d also encourage you to reach out for help.)

If you’re not sure how to begin a gratitude practice, here are some ideas and tips:

  • Be creative. Even if your life is a mess right now, think of what you rely on to get you through a day. Maybe there’s a show you’re streaming right now that helps you briefly escape your situation. Feel thankful for the writers who made it possible. 
  • Be genuine. Don’t force yourself to feel grateful for things you “should” be grateful for (food, water, house, life, etc.). Maybe you’re just really, really grateful for your cup of coffee. Bask in that feeling. 
  • Write it down. Buy yourself a little notebook and use it to record one or two things you’re grateful for each day. This way, you can look back at it for encouragement on days you’re feeling especially down. 
  • Redirect negative emotions. Gratitude can be especially helpful when we least feel like engaging in it. If you’ve had a bad day, allow yourself to feel that frustration–but then look for something positive. You were sick all day with a bad cold, BUT you didn’t run out of tissues. And thank goodness for tissues! So much better than leaves!

We’re Grateful for the Opportunity to Serve You

Here at Miramont Behavioral Health, we’re ready to work with you or your loved one if either of you are struggling with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or substance use disorder. We offer inpatient and outpatient treatment and are open 24/7, even on holidays. Reach out to our Middleton, WI, facility today. 

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