gratitude

IMPORTANCE OF GRATITUDE: AND ITS IMPACT ON MENTAL HEALTH

Gratitude. We all have tried adopting the attitude of gratitude at least once or twice in our lives. Though for a short period, we have felt the effects of it on our moods and mental state. But do you know how it can positively impact our overall mental health? Many studies have quoted that those who count on their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed.
A recent study by Brown and Wong, two Ph.D. graduates from Indiana University set out to answer the question of how gratitude can have an impact on our minds. They selected 300 participants from the university who wished to seek mental health counseling and reported
to be experiencing clinically low levels of mental health at the time. After assigning the students into three groups, all of them received counseling services. Apart from that, the first group was instructed to write one letter of gratitude to another person each week for three weeks, whereas the second group was asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences. The third group did not do any writing activity.
Results showed that those who wrote gratitude letters along with receiving mental health counseling reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended. Suggesting that “gratitude writing can be beneficial not just  for
healthy, well-adjusted individuals, but also for those who struggle with mental health concerns. It seems, practicing gratitude on top of receiving psychological counseling carries greater benefits than counseling alone, even when that gratitude practice is brief.” (Brown & Wong, 2017)
Apart from the above advantages, gratitude comes with more psychological benefits.

Gratitude and overall outlook
Gratitude helps in shifting one’s attention from negative emotions and focuses on the positives of a situation, person, or event. Making the individual change his/her perspective and look beyond the negativity one might be feeling.

Gratitude and interpersonal relationships
Other studies have looked at how gratitude can help improve relationships. For instance, 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 and workplace
Gratitude has been also been shown to help with job satisfaction and burnout. Studies have confirmed its positive effect in the workplace, and also improving a manager-employee relationship. This can also help in increasing motivation to do well in the organization.

Gratitude and health
Gratitude helps in overall health. It not only impacts our mental well-being but also our physical health. Positive psychology and mental health researchers over the decades have established an overwhelming connection between gratitude and good health. Keeping a gratitude journal causes less stress, improves the quality of sleep, and builds emotional awareness (Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson, 2005).

Gratitude and Sleep
Studies have shown that practicing gratitude activates the hypothalamus in the brain, which in turn regulates the bodily mechanisms controlled by the hypothalamus, out of which sleep is a vital one.
“Hypothalamic regulation triggered by gratitude helps us get deeper and healthier sleep naturally every day. A brain filled with gratitude and kindness is more likely to sleep better and wake up feeling refreshed and energetic every morning” (Zahn et al., 2009).

Gratitude and the brain
The Mindfulness Awareness Research Center of UCLA stated that gratitude changes the neural structures in the brain, and makes us feel happier and content. Feeling grateful as well as appreciating others when they do something good for us triggers the ‘feel-good’ hormones and regulates the effective functioning of the immune system. Scientists have suggested that by activating the reward center of the brain, gratitude exchange alters the way we see the world and ourselves. At a neurochemical level, gratitude also acts as a
catalyst to neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine -hormones that are responsible for our emotions, anxiety, and stress responses.

Now that we’ve counted the benefits of practicing thankfulness, let us see how we can cultivate this practice of gratitude.

Writing a Thank-You note.
You can write a thank you note to a friend, a parent, or your significant other expressing your appreciation and enjoyment the other person has brought to your life. One can also write a gratitude letter to an     ex-partner by thanking them for all the good and bad memories that one has shared with them. This also helps in letting go of the pain, while releasing the negative emotions one may have been repressing for a long time. This can be a wonderful way to heal from the past and, move on.

Gratitude Journaling
A gratitude journal is a personal space to pen down all the little and big things in life that you are thankful for. One can journal what they are thankful for each day in a “dear diary” format or even in an online notepad.

Meditation
Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without any judgment. While meditating, one can give thanks to even the basic things that are a part of lives such as the sunlight, the food we eat every day, nature, etc. Many guided meditations that we can find on the internet focus on the things one can be grateful for.

Find a Gratitude Buddy.
You can also find yourself a gratitude buddy with who you can practice the art of gratitude daily. It can be your partner, a friend, your kid, or a friend at work, who you can sit down with and discuss the things you both are grateful for. This can also enhance the motivation to practice it daily.
Gratitude is an attitude that overall enhances our well-being. Practicing gratitude can take time especially the benefits it carries. We urge everyone to take out 5 minutes in your day and give this practice of thankfulness a try. It works!

References
Brown, J., Wong, J (2017) How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain. Retrieved from:
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain

Chowdhury, M.A. (2020) The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How It Affects Anxiety & Grief.
Retrieved from: https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude/
Giving thanks can make you happier. (2011) Retrieved from:
https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier

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