Gratitude… Thankfulness. Gratefulness. Appreciation. Many words express the sentiment of gratitude. One dictionary labels it a feeling. Some may prefer to think of it as a state of mind.
However you think about gratitude, one thing is certain. More and more evidence is proving a connection exists between gratefulness and mental well-being.
In this post, we’ll dive a little deeper into that connection to uncover the significance of gratitude, its benefits, the practice of weaving it into other counseling therapies for mental health, and some ways to cultivate gratefulness in everyday life.
Robert Emmons, of The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, is a world renowned scientific expert on gratitude. He says it’s an affirmation of goodness and a recognition that the goodness didn’t result from anything that we’ve done. Rather, it comes from outside of ourselves.
“Gratitude allows us to participate more in life. We notice the positives more, and that magnifies the pleasures you get from life. Instead of adapting to goodness, we celebrate goodness. We spend so much time watching things—movies, computer screens, sports—but with gratitude we become greater participants in our lives as opposed to spectators.”
– Robert Emmons, Greater Good Magazine
Benefits of Gratitude as Mental Health Help
Many researchers have sought to understand more about how gratitude benefits us. Collectively, they’ve found a number of positive outcomes for those who choose to practice gratefulness.
- More positive emotions.
First Things First explains that because gratitude increases dopamine and serotonin — the feel-good neurotransmitters in our brains — we have more positive emotions as a result of taking time to express thanks.
A study by Sunghyon Kyeong, Joohan Kim, Dae Jin Kim, Hesun Erin Kim, and Jae-Jin Kim of Yonsei University in Seoul found thankfulness to be such a positive experience that those who practice it live happier lives.
- Less stress.
Simply changing our focus from complaining about what we don’t have (not enough money, not enough time, not the kind of relationship we want) to being grateful for what we do have (a reliable job, friends and family to spend time with, activities that we enjoy) can lessen the stress we’re experiencing.
HelpGuide.org suggests that the gratefulness switch provides mental health help by reducing our stress hormones, which means we feel less anxiety and improved mood.
- Better physical conditioning.
Dr. Emmons, whom we referenced earlier, discusses the physical benefits of a thankful heart in his article “Why Gratitude is Good.” The Greater Good Science Center has studied more than 1,000 people of all ages and found consistent results in their physical well-being, which in turn provides mental health help:
- Better sleep
- Less pain
- Lower blood pressure
- Stronger immunity
- More motivation and consistency in exercise
- Stronger relationships.
When we bring a sense of thankfulness to our relationships, we look through a different lens. Instead of seeing the gaps that may be present, we see what’s right in front of us — a spouse who’s loving us well, albeit imperfectly, or a child that’s still learning the give and take of healthy relationships. Being grateful for who that person is — in spite of whatever imperfections we may see — will go a long way in keeping our relationships strong. And strong relationships are a tonic for our mental well-being.
Weaving Gratitude into Counseling for Mental Health
Counseling for mental health includes outpatient therapy for anxiety disorders, depression, and other mental struggles. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is just one tool in a counselor’s toolbox. Medication management can also be offered (when needed) as well as education surrounding anxiety disorders and depression.
The practice of gratitude can be woven into outpatient therapies to complement the treatment plan. Those struggling with anxiety and depression can incorporate gratitude practices as mental health help, to shift from negative thought patterns to a more positive outlook. Gratitude has the potential to be a powerful coping tool complementing other forms of therapy and promoting mental well-being.
Tips for Cultivating Gratitude in Everyday Life
When someone in counseling for mental health wants to add gratitude as an everyday practice — a discipline even — there are many ways to do so.
1 – Create a Gratitude Journal
One of the most popular ideas is writing in a gratitude journal. It’s important not to be intimidated by the idea of writing on a regular basis… a gratitude journal can be anything you want it to be. It can be:
- A paper notebook you write in
- A digital file you keep online
- A series of videos you record
- A sketchbook where you draw what you’re thankful for
What’s more important than the kind of journal you choose will be your consistency in contributing to it. Decide how often you want to write, draw, or record a video… then block the time off in your calendar and stick to it!
2 – Practice Using a Language of Gratitude
Dr. Emmons says that grateful people use language that expresses their thankfulness — words like gifts, blessings, and abundance. He suggests focusing on the good others have done for you and letting your language reflect how appreciative you are.
3 – Write Thank-You Notes
We feel thankful for the many things others do for us each day, but how often do we take the time to tell them so?
Instead of letting good deeds go unacknowledged, why not make writing thank-you notes a habit? They can be handwritten on cards that you mail the old-fashioned way — sealed and stamped! — or they can be sent by email or text. What’s important is expressing the gratitude you feel. You’ll likely get that all-over-feel-good feeling when you do, and getting a thank you note from you could potentially make someone’s day!
4 – Do Other Physical Activities That Represent Thankfulness
John Hopkins University suggests also doing physical activities that represent gratefulness. We think that’s a great idea! Gratitude trees, jars, paper chains, and walks — all are ways that physically remind us of all that we have to be thankful for and, in turn, contribute to our mental health and well-being.
If you or someone you know is struggling to find reasons for gratefulness and could benefit from counseling for mental health, reach out to the professionals at Best Day.