How giving thanks can improve our mental health and well being. In association with Happiness.com.
By now I’m assuming that we’ve all heard of the term gratitude even if it’s just in passing. Those of us within the mental health community may even practice gratitude on a daily basis as suggested by professionals or, simply, as part of our own self-care routine. But what is the purpose of gratitude and just how reliable is it as a means of improving our happiness?
Gratitude is basically giving thanks or appreciation for what we have and receive in life. When things seem nigh impossible there is always something to be grateful for, even if we can’t see it. While going through difficult times in our lives it’s often hard to see the ‘sky for the trees.’ We shield our eyes from the world around us and tend to focus only on the pain. For example, when we lose a loved one it’s easy to fall into a hole of anger and despair. When my beloved grandparents passed last year I had several days where I could see nothing but the bad in my life. It’s only now, a year later, that I’m able to feel grateful for the time I had with them. I’m no longer angry at the world or with the Gods for taking them. Instead, I’m happy they’re at peace and eternally grateful for the many years of happy memories.
“Gratitude gives us the opportunity to acknowledge the good in our lives, whether it be in people, nature, or a simple cup of coffee.”
Positive psychology research has long associated gratitude with improved feelings of happiness. Its thought to improve the positive emotions we feel, allows us to hold onto good experiences, enables us to better deal with adversity and even helps us to build and maintain healthy relationships.
What does the research say?
A study was carried out on three hundred university students seeking mental health counseling for a variety of reasons. Before beginning their therapy they were split into three separate groups. Group one was asked to write one letter of gratitude to another person every week for three weeks. The second group was asked to write about their thoughts and feelings in regards to negative experiences, and the final group was asked to carry on as normal. All three groups attending counseling throughout.
Compared with the groups who wrote about negative experiences or did nothing, those in group one reported better overall mental health and feeling more positive. They even reported significant positives changes to their mental health in the weeks after their writing exercises had ended. This proves that gratitude can have a major impact on not only our mental health but our general health as well. Although an excellent outlet for healthy individuals it can also be an invaluable source of positivity for those who struggle with their mental health on a daily basis. [Taylor & Francis. 2020.]
3 ways to show gratitude.
Practice gratitude everyday.
You can practice gratitude on a daily basis by keeping a gratitude journal. Each morning when you wake, or before you go to bed, write down three things that you’re grateful for. This can be something as simple as a morning hug from your partner, a cuddle with your pet, or even just how lovely the weather is.
Gratitude doesn’t have to include extravagant things like vacations or a new car. It’s found in the simplest and smallest of ways. Calvin Holbrook of Happiness.com shows us how living a simple life can improve our happiness and overall mental health. Not only does simplicity prevent us from overspending in order to feel better, but it allows us time to focus on what we already have. All in all, it removes the continuous need for distraction so we can better deal with what we’re trying to avoid.
Need a gratitude journal? You can sign up for the mailing list and get the free gratitude journal printable. Alternatively, I suggest using Evernote or getting your hands on a motivational notebook.
Give thanks to those who have helped or inspired you.
As proven by the above study giving thanks to the people in our lives can help stir and nourish positive feelings. Take the time to send a letter to someone who has been there for you through a difficult period. Or you could send a letter, text, or email to check in on someone who you admire. Let them know how much you value them as a person. Not only will this benefit you but it’ll also provide a much needed pick me up to the recipient.
I love sending and receiving messages of thanks. They help to remind me who I am and motivate me to continue to do and be better.
Take a walk through nature.
During COVID-19 I’ve been taking more time to explore the surrounding countryside. I’ve walked up country lanes, through fields, along abandoned paths and under canapes of trees. Prior to lock down I didn’t take the time to walk through my local countryside but now I’ve found some beautiful places to spend time with nature, something I could never do in the city.
Take some time to give thanks to mother nature. Listen to the sounds of the country. The trees rustling, the birds chirping and feel the sun on your skin. Even if it’s raining we have something to be thankful for.
How do you practice gratitude? Have you found it improves your overall happiness?
- Taylor & Francis. 2020. Does Gratitude Writing Improve The Mental Health Of Psychotherapy Clients? Evidence From A Randomized Controlled Trial. [online] Available at: <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10503307.2016.1169332?scroll=top&needAccess=true&journalCode=tpsr20> [Accessed 12 May 2020].