Gratitude and Mental Health

COVID-19 has been a shock to us all on a global level. It has caused fear and anxiety among people all around the world. Many people have lost their jobs, family and friends, and their sense of control. While we all can agree that COVID-19 is traumatic, there is a powerful force that can help us during these hard times, gratitude. Gratitude is the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and return kindness. You may be thinking, “How can I be grateful after such a terrible year?”, “How does being grateful benefit me in any way?” Well gratitude has been scientifically proven to have many benefits.

Findings from positive psychology research shows that there is a strong and consistent correlation between gratitude and greater happiness. Gratitude helps you feel more positive emotions, enjoy great experiences, improve health, and build strong relationships.

Furthermore, gratitude has many psychological benefits. Gratitude can release toxic emotions through the activation of the hippocampus and the amygdala. These areas of the brain are responsible for regulating emotions, memory and bodily functioning. They are the sites of the brain that get activated with feelings of gratitude. Another benefit is pain reduction, gratitude helps in regulating the level of dopamine. By practicing gratitude, it energizes us which leads to reducing subjective feelings of pain. Also, it reduces anxiety and depression by increasing the neural modulation of the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for managing negative emotions such as guilt, shame, and violence. As well, it improves sleep quality. Kindness activates the hypothalamus which regulates many of our bodily functions controlled by hormones; Sleep is one of those functions.When the hypothalamus is triggered by gratitude, it helps us to have deeper and healthier sleep. Additionally, with a brain filled with gratitude, you are more likely to also wake up feeling refreshed and energetic. Exercising gratitude aids in stress regulation by decreasing cortisol, the stress hormone. Multiple studies have shown that by engaging with gratitude, we can handle stress better.

Gratitude plays an important role in our social lives. In research by social psychologist Dr. Eric Pedersen and Psychologist Dr. Debra Lieberman, they found that gratitude helps us initiate, maintain and strengthen our relationships. Whether it’s with friends, co-workers or a romantic partner, gratitude is a beneficial factor. Gratitude benefits us by drawing us closer to one another to have more satisfying relationships, helps us to be more invested in friendships, and makes us better coworkers. In research by psychologist Dr. Sara Algoe, When we feel grateful, it helps us navigate people who are responsive to our needs, this draws us closer to them.

Now that you know the benefits of gratitude, here is how you can practice it in your own life. You can write a thank-you note. This allows you to feel happier within yourself and deepen your relationship with another person. You can even write one to yourself. You can do this as often as you please. If you feel you do not have enough time to be writing letters, you can thank someone mentally. You do this by thinking about someone who has done something nice for you and mentally thanking them. However, don’t forget to actually tell the person how thankful you are for them in your life. You can also keep a gratitude journal where you write down your sentiments about gifts you have received. Counting your blessings is another powerful exercise. Pick a time every week when you can write about your blessings and what you are grateful for. You can pick as many as you want and include the sentiments of what you are grateful for. If you have a religious background prayer can be used to cultivate gratitude. Last but not least you can meditate by focusing on the present moment without judgement and reflecting on what you are grateful for in the moment.

So, what are you waiting for? Get started on cultivating gratitude today, and watch how it can transform your mental health and wellbeing. COVID-19 can take many things away from us, but it can not take away our ability to practice gratitude.

Sources:
Chowdhury, M.R. (2020). The neuroscience of gratitude and how it affects anxiety and grief. Positive Psychology. https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude/

Hopper, E. (2015). How gratitude helps us build better relationships. Healthy Psych.
https://healthypsych.com/how-gratitude-helps-us-build-better-relationships/

Harvard Health Publishing.(n.d.) Giving thanks can make you happier. Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can make- ouhappier#:~:text=In%20positive%20psychology%20research%2C%20gratitude,express%20gratitude%20in%20multiple%20ways

Lieberman, D., Pedersen, E.(2017). How gratitude helps your friendships grow. Greater Good Magazine.
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_helps_your_friendships_grow#:~:text=A%20great%20deal%20of%20research,to%20be%20more%20helpful%20coworkers

A TEDtalk on the topic