Updated: Aug 5, 2020
When was the last time you complained about something?
Many people, like myself, find it difficult to remember to be grateful for the things in our lives.
If you are like me, my days can often be filled with my own list of “to-dos”, wants, desires, worries, failures, and/or disappointments. Often forgetting about how lucky I am to have the basic necessities that have kept me afloat.
I’m guilty. So very guilty.
In particular, I am now more aware of the fact that I have a tendency to focus on the things that other people have that I don’t. As a result, I have had a mixture of negative feelings that range from jealousy to insecurity to hopelessness and more.
What does that tell you about my mental health?
It’s not that great, that’s for sure.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude — is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has. It is a recognition of value independent of monetary worth. Spontaneously generated from within, it is an affirmation of goodness (1)
If you think about it, gratitude is such a simple practice but its something that we often forget to do. However, research has proven that incorporating gratitude in our everyday lives has life-changing benefits.
The more that you invite gratitude into your life, your mind, and space the more you will see positive changes to your mental health.
For example, people who habitually practice gratitude report being happier and more fulfilled.
Not only that but when you practice gratitude you practice learning how to appreciate what you have while not entirely focusing on the things you don’t have.
The Absence of Gratitude
People who don’t practice being grateful have reported being less happy and content than those who do.
As high consumers, most of us are often chasing the things that we don’t have. And our focus is on the chase.
Chasing the newest iPhone.
Chasing a promotion.
But what if I told you that chasing happiness is much easier than you would think…through the practice of gratitude.
Gratitude is free and readily available to anyone ready to accept happiness into their lives.
Why not start today?
Gratitude As An Attitude
We all have things going on in our lives that distract us but gratitude will change our perspective by switching our focus from the negative to something more positive.
Instead of focusing on the negative, gratitude will help diffuse the way we think negatively.
The Benefits of Practicing Gratitude
Reduced blood pressure
A study by two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough, was conducted with a pool of about 300 college students. Most of them were seeking mental health counseling at their university and the majority of these individuals reported that they were struggling with issues related to depression and anxiety (2)
Each participant was assigned randomly into three groups.
Group 1: This group was asked to write one letter of gratitude to someone each week for three weeks.
Group 2: This group was asked to write about their thoughts and feelings about their negative experiences for the same duration as Group 1.
Group 3: They weren’t asked to do anything.
Results from this study were collected and the findings concluded that the group (Group 1) was asked to write letters of gratitude reported to have better mental health compared to the other groups (Group 2 and Group 3).
It was concluded that gratitude writing can be beneficial to those who struggle with their mental health. (see blog post: Understanding The Difference Between Mental Health and Mental Illness.)
Other research findings from other studies have suggested also that:
People who express more gratitude tend to report having higher self-esteem than those who don’t.
People who express gratitude have positive social behavior thus resulted in greater happiness.
Having grateful thoughts before bed sleep much better than those who don’t.
Remodel Your Brain With Gratitude
Research has suggested that practicing gratitude helps improve our mental health (3). Gratitude has the power to rewire our brains by kickstarting the production of dopamine and serotonin.
Dopamine and serotonin are both considered “feel good” neurotransmitters that are typically in low amounts in those with depression (see blog post: What Is Depression? And Do I Have It?). Often those who are depressed are prescribed anti-depressants (see blog post: Treating Depression With Anti-Depressants) to help bring the levels of dopamine and/or serotonin to normal levels. This increased production of these neurotransmitters leads to happiness and contentment (4).
However, this doesn’t mean you practice gratitude one day and your biology will take care of the rest rather. Rather it is the habitual practice the retrains you the pre-frontal cortex of the brain to better appreciate and retain positive experiences and thoughts.
Ways To Start Practicing Gratitude
Show your appreciation for someone
Show appreciation for yourself
Practice kindness towards yourself and other people
Keep a gratitude journal
Gratitude will help change your life once you decide to practice it daily.
Start showing your appreciation for people and for the things you have and not focus too much on the things you don’t have.
Once you start recognizing the great things you have in your life you may come to realize that maybe life isn’t as bad as you made it out to be in the first place.
So I ask you this…
In the comments section, write three things that you are most grateful for today and I’ll give you my 10 cents.