How gratitude works to improve our mental health.
We live in a world where we have been taught to always want more, be more and do more. Much of our time and energy is spent pursuing things we currently don’t have. We seek happiness and joy outside of ourselves, with a strong emphasis on external factors. Expressing gratitude reverses our priorities to help us appreciate the people and things already in our lives.
What does it mean to be grateful? Gratitude is the practice of being thankful and appreciative for every good thing that comes your way. It’s about choosing to focus your time and attention on what you already have.
Appreciation soothes the mind and has a profound effect on our health, our moods and our relationships.
Scientists have begun to look at the effects of gratitude on the brain and body. Research from UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center has found that:
Having an attitude of gratitude changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeps gray matter functioning, and makes us healthier and happier. When you feel happiness, the central nervous system is affected. You are more peaceful, less reactive and less resistant. This promotes a greater sense of well-being.
Several studies have shown depression to be inversely correlated to gratitude. It seems that the more grateful a person is, the less depressed they are. Philip Watkins, a clinical psychologist at Eastern Washington University, found that clinically depressed individuals showed significantly lower gratitude (nearly 50 percent less) than non-depressed controls.
Researchers from Berkeley identified how gratitude might actually work on our minds and bodies. They provided four insights from their research suggesting what causes the psychological benefits of gratitude.
- Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions
- Gratitude helps even if you don’t share it
- Gratitude’s benefits take time & practice. You might not feel it right away.
- Gratitude has lasting effects on the brain
Practicing gratitude is extremely powerful in shifting your perspective and allowing more happiness and well-being into your life. It also helps train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude which can contribute to improved mental health over time
Start practicing gratitude today with these easy steps
Looking to increase your happiness levels and sense of well-being? Starting a gratitude practice can help steer you in the right direction. These simple steps can help you build positive momentum toward a more fulfilling life:
1) Keep a daily journal of things you are thankful for. Try it first thing in the morning or right before bed.
2) Say “thank you!” make it a habit to express appreciation to your loved ones each day.
3) Look in the mirror and say something you like about yourself out loud.
It feels good to feel good. Be patient and remember that the benefits of gratitude might take time to kick in.