Gratitude and Mental Health
This is Thanksgiving week. Gratitude is the quality of being thankful and the readiness to show appreciation and return kindness. Harvard Medical School writes that “The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. Gratitude encompasses all of these. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what you receive, tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies ...at least partially... outside themselves. Gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves.
The Greater Good Science Center reports that over the past two decades, studies have consistently found that people who practice gratitude report fewer symptoms of illness, and depression, have more optimism, happiness, and stronger relationships. Keeping a gratitude journal is a great way to cultivate this attitude. Three days per week write down five things you are grateful for. Be specific and describe what each item means to you. For example, write about the positive people in your life and where you’d be without them. This week especially, put gratitude into practice.
In a 2017 the Greater Good Science Center conducted a study in which participants either received counseling, counseling and journaled about their negative feelings or counseling and wrote a letter of gratitude once per week to someone; those who wrote the letter of gratitude reported significantly higher levels of mental health at four and twelve weeks after the study. There is something to this thankfulness thing. If you want to do something right now to improve your mental health, I suggest you work at cultivating an attitude of gratitude.
According to the Greater Good Science Center “Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present. It helps us appreciate the value of something, and when we appreciate the value of something, we extract more benefits from it; we’re less likely to take it for granted. Gratitude allows us to celebrate goodness.” Furthermore, the center reports “Grateful people are more stress-resistant.” There’s a number of studies showing that in the face of serious trauma, adversity, and suffering, if people have a grateful disposition, they’ll recover more quickly. Gratitude gives people a perspective from which they can resiliently interpret negative life events and guard against stress and anxiety.”
This week, do something transformational. Try focusing your thoughts and actions on appreciating the things and people in your life you are thankful for. Take the time to write and send a few random thank you cards. It will lift you and another up. Make lists of the people that have helped you or encouraged you and focus your thoughts on them. Send thank you cards. This may be the best medicine you ever take.
-Jerry Strausbaugh, EdD, LPCC-S, Executive Director, Appleseed Community Mental Health Center