Cultivating Gratitude: How Thankfulness Boosts Mental Health
Published on 2nd November, 2023
Gratitude can be characterised as a positive emotion that arises when one perceives the kindness or assistance of others, and also as a personal quality encompassing the capacity to value life’s simple pleasures, a feeling of abundance, and the ability to experience and convey appreciation to others (Bohlmeijer et al., 2021). A number of studies have demonstrated the positive relationship between gratitude and mental health (Wood et al., 2010). When we express gratitude, we acknowledge the goodness in our lives and recognise the sources of this goodness outside of ourselves. The practice of gratitude has been linked to numerous mental health benefits, making it an essential aspect of overall well-being.
Below, we will explore the benefits of practising gratitude and how we can cultivate gratitude in our everyday life.
The benefits of practising gratitude
1. Builds trust and increases prosocial behaviours
Gratitude is not just about appreciating what others do for us, but also appreciating the good around us and having a positive attitude in life. This disposition correlates with personality traits such as openness, emotional warmth, and trust. Individuals who are grateful tend to exhibit traits conducive to positive relationships, indicating that they generally have positive emotional functioning. This broader perspective of gratitude not only fosters personal well-being but also encourages prosocial behaviours, creating a positive cycle of gratitude, trust, and cooperation among individuals (Wood et al., 2010).
2. Improves individual functioning and increases resilience
Being grateful boosts how well people cope and bounce back from difficulties. When an individual focuses on positive things in life, it reduces tendencies towards depression and enhances overall happiness. This not only bolsters personal resilience but also fosters social connections, creating a robust foundation for facing adversities with grace and fortitude.
3. Reduces stress and anxiety
Gratitude acts as a natural stress reliever. When we acknowledge the positive aspects of our lives, it can lessen the attention we pay to negative emotions (Garland et al., 2010). Gratitude has a lasting impact on the brain, activating the limbic system that governs emotions, motivations, and memories, and reducing anxiety, stress, and depression. It counteracts the stress response in our bodies, leading to reduced anxiety levels. Gratitude also sharpens our focus by training our minds to concentrate on the present moment. It encourages us to appreciate the current experience, enabling us to be more attentive and focused in our daily activities (Smith, 2023). By cultivating gratitude, we create a buffer against the daily stressors that can otherwise overwhelm us (University of Utah Health, 2021).
4. Improved relationships
Expressing gratitude strengthens interpersonal relationships. When we show appreciation for others, it fosters a sense of connection and mutual respect. Gratitude enhances empathy and understanding, leading to healthier communication and more satisfying relationships with friends, family, and colleagues.
5. Protective factor against adverse events
Practising gratitude serves as a powerful protective factor, significantly decreasing the likelihood of being adversely affected by life's challenges. Research reveals that embracing gratitude not only boosts happiness but also reduces stress and anxiety. By consciously appreciating both major achievements and everyday moments, individuals enhance their emotional resilience (Mental Health First Aid, 2022). This positive outlook acts as a buffer, diminishing the impact of adverse events on mental health. Regular gratitude practices, such as acknowledging small victories and expressing thanks, create a robust psychological shield, enabling individuals to navigate difficulties with a resilient and optimistic mindset.
6. Cultivates other virtues
Gratitude extends beyond appreciation, fostering essential virtues like patience, humility, and wisdom. Studies reveal that individuals with higher gratitude exhibit increased patience, willingly opting for delayed but larger rewards, suggesting that gratitude reduces impatience. Additionally, gratitude intertwines with humility, with expressions of gratitude leading to greater humility, creating an uplifting cycle of these virtues. Wisdom and gratitude are also intertwined; wise individuals often express more gratitude, indicating a deep connection between these traits. Gratitude, therefore, acts as a catalyst, nurturing a spectrum of virtues that enrich our lives and relationships (Allen, 2018).
How to cultivate gratitude in everyday life
1. Keep a gratitude journal
One of the most effective ways to cultivate gratitude is by maintaining a gratitude journal. Each day, write down three things you are thankful for. These can be small, everyday occurrences or significant life events. Reflecting on positive experiences regularly helps reinforce a grateful mindset.
2. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness, the practice of being fully present in the moment, can enhance gratitude. By paying attention to your surroundings, sensations, and emotions, you become more aware of the beauty in everyday life. Mindfulness allows you to savour positive experiences and encourages a sense of gratitude for the present moment.
3. Express gratitude to others
Don't keep your gratitude to yourself; express it to others. Write thank-you notes, send messages of appreciation, or simply say “thank you” more often. Acknowledging the kindness of others not only spreads positivity, but also reinforces your own sense of gratitude.
4. Count your blessings
Take a moment each day to mentally count your blessings. Think about the things you have, both tangible and intangible, that bring joy and fulfilment to your life. This practice shifts your focus from what you lack to what you have, fostering gratitude. It can be an especially valuable exercise for individuals undergoing counselling for adults in Singapore, helping them find stability and peace in their lives.
5. Volunteer or help others
Engaging in acts of kindness and services can deepen your sense of gratitude. Volunteering your time or helping others in need provides perspective on your own life, making you appreciate your privileges and blessings. Volunteering also allows you to make meaningful connections with others, while bringing fun and fulfilment to your life.
Just like the benefits of forgiveness, incorporating gratitude into your daily life can significantly boost your mental health and overall well-being. By appreciating the positive aspects of your life, you can build trust, improve relationships, reduce stress and anxiety, and cultivate other virtues. Cultivating gratitude is not just a fleeting emotion; it is a lifestyle choice that can transform how you perceive the world and interact with those around you.
For parents seeking guidance on nurturing gratitude in their children, consulting a qualified child psychologist in Singapore can be a valuable resource. These professionals offer tailored approaches, ensuring that children not only grasp the concept of gratitude, but also integrate it into their daily routines, setting the foundation for lifelong mental well-being.
So, take a moment each day to acknowledge the blessings in your life, express your gratitude to others, and savour the present moment. By embracing gratitude, you are not only nurturing your mental health but also creating a ripple effect of positivity that can benefit not only yourself but also the people you encounter in your journey through life.
Allen, S. (2018). The Science of Gratitude. https://search.issuelab.org/resource/the-science-of-gratitude.html
Bohlmeijer, E. T., Kraiss, J. T., Watkins, P., & Schotanus-Dijkstra, M. (2021). Promoting gratitude as a resource for sustainable mental health: Results of a 3-armed randomized controlled trial up to 6 months follow-up. Journal of Happiness Studies, 22(3), 1011–1032. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-020-00261-5
Garland, E. L., Fredrickson, B., Kring, A. M., Johnson, D. P., Meyer, P. S., & Penn, D. L. (2010). Upward spirals of positive emotions counter downward spirals of negativity: Insights from the broaden-and-build theory and affective neuroscience on the treatment of emotion dysfunctions and deficits in psychopathology. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(7), 849–864. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.002
Mental Health First Aid. (2022). The importance of practicing gratitude and celebrating small victories - https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/2022/11/practicing-gratitude/#:~:text=Research%20has%20shown%20that%20consciously,35%25%20reduction%20in%20depressive%20symptoms
Practicing Gratitude for Better Health and Well-Being. (2021). University of Utah Health | University of Utah Health. https://healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/2021/11/practicing-gratitude-better-health-and-well-being
Smith, M. (2023). Gratitude: The Benefits and How to Practice It. HelpGuide.org. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/gratitude.htm