The Science Behind Gratitude: The Evidence of Thankfulness and How to Get Started

Published On: October 18, 2021|Categories: Educational, Recovery|
Young happy woman holding hand of senior man with both palms, shaking hands. Clouds in background

Being thankful isn’t just something to practice around the holidays. Gratitude is the art of appreciating all life has to offer, and it doesn’t just feel good. Gratitude has been shown to improve both physical and mental wellness, and it might be just what you need to feel happier and healthier.

According to the journal Psychiatry, there is some nuance to the empirical evidence behind how gratitude affects mental health. While there is evidence of benefits, there are also studies that show mixed results, too. Overall, there are some simple exercises to add gratitude to therapy, but they should never be a replacement for professional help.

In this article, we’ll explore the best evidence available behind gratitude practices, and offer ways to start showing gratitude today.

How does gratitude affect mental health?

You might be wondering what the impact of thankfulness is on a person’s wellbeing. A study published in the Journal of Personal and Social Psychology set out to determine exactly that. In this study, participants were assigned to one of three groups and either tasked with writing down annoyances, things they were grateful for or random life events. The group that wrote gratitude lists reported better overall well-being than the other two groups at the end of the study, indicated by several measures.

Gratitude can also improve your sleep, which is one way to support solid mental wellness. A study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that gratitude practices were associated with better sleep quality, longer duration of nightly sleep, less sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) and decreased daytime dysfunction.

Another study in the Journal of Research in Personality found that gratitude increased perceived social support and lower levels of stress and depression. The relationship was not bi-directional, though and improvements in other areas seem to start with gratefulness practices.

The Medical Journal of Chile published a meta-analysis of gratitude practices and their clinical implications. The study lists several additional mental and physical positive effects of gratitude, including better cardiovascular functioning, decreased blood pressure, better immune response, improved mood, higher life satisfaction, decreased symptoms of stress, improved body image, decreased anxiety symptoms and lower risk of substance use and suicidality. Gratitude has also been shown to increase the likelihood of adherence to treatment.

Overall, there are numerous ways that gratitude can affect health, and when your body benefits so does your brain. While there are many empirical studies that demonstrate quantifiable benefits of gratitude, there are also more abstract benefits that can improve your mental health.

Gratitude can help you to improve your outlook on life. Daily or weekly opportunities to reflect on the meaningful things in your life not only allow you to appreciate the good in your life, but it can train you to look for the positive, building up a habit of optimism.

Gratitude can also create a healthy routine of contemplation. Many therapeutic techniques revolve around taking time to decompress and process events in your life. Gratitude journaling and other gratitude exercises use this same technique, but can be practiced on your own and at any time. This practice can build self-awareness and help you to make healthy decisions in the future.

Gratitude exercises are also a chance to express thankfulness to those around you. While writing or meditating is surely good for you, these habits are likely to encourage you to share positive reflections. Gratitude inclines us to share hopeful or complementary thoughts with others, which in turn improves our interpersonal relationships.

These and other effects of gratitude practices improve mental health, decreasing anxiety and depression symptoms, improving mood and infusing meaning into people’s lives.

How can I practice gratitude for my mental health?

There are surely scientific and anecdotal benefits to practicing gratitude. If you’re ready to take advantage of the many pros, the first step is to learn how. Lucky for you, practicing gratitude is a simple task. At first, you may need some guidance, but after including daily or weekly gratitude exercises, it will feel like second nature.

Here are the top recommended gratitude practices to improve mental health.

  • Gratitude journaling: one of the most popular forms of practicing thankfulness is using a journal. You can find prompts online, and build a schedule so you have time to write on a regular basis.
  • Meditations: mentally reflecting on all the positive aspects of your day is one way to show gratefulness. Do a free form mediation or find a guided one online (a quick internet search of “gratitude meditation” should get you what you need).
  • Spiritual practices: many religions have thankfulness as a core component of their faith. If you identify with a particular religion or spirituality, consider what practices are already available for you to take advantage of. Prayer and communal gatherings often offer opportunities to express gratitude.
  • Write thank-you notes: you can write thank-you notes outside of birthdays, holidays and baby showers. Writing thank you notes is a quick way to express gratitude for the people around you, and an easy way to train your mind to look for the best in people. Thank a friend for their companionship, a coworker for helping you with a project or a family member who offered support.

Being grateful has amazing benefits for your body and mind, and there are simple ways to add gratitude to your regular routine. While thankfulness can surely improve your mental health, gratitude alone is not enough to treat mental illness.

At Pyramid Healthcare, you can get the help you need. Pyramid Healthcare offers treatment and support for those struggling with mental health disorders or substance abuse. Call 888-694-9996 today to get started.

Silhouette of man raised hands with landscape mountains at sunsetEverything You Need to Know About Breaking a Cocaine Addiction
Pyramid Family Feature: Adalberto Morales