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Gratitude makes us healthier and happier and boosts mental health, studies show.
“Enjoy the little things in life because one day you will look back and realise they were the big things”.
Philosophers and sages have been telling us for a very long time that the source of true happiness lies within, yet from a very young age, we are pulled towards the external world for our satisfaction. Now science is starting to catch up with the wisdom of the ancients and demonstrate that gratitude boosts mental health. According to research coming out of UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center:
Having an attitude of gratitude changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeps grey 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.
Studies on gratitude
Numerous studies have shown that people who count their blessings tend to be happier, experience less depression, report feeling healthier and are more physically active.
A study on gratitude conducted by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis and his colleague Mike McCullough at the University of Miami randomly assigned participants to be given one of three tasks.
Each week, participants kept a short journal. One group described five things they were grateful for that had occurred in the past week, another group recorded daily troubles from the previous week that bothered them, and the neutral group was asked to list five events or circumstances that affected them, but they were not told whether to focus on the positive or the negative.
Ten weeks later, participants in the gratitude group felt better about their lives as a whole and were a full 25 percent happier than the troubled group. They reported fewer health complaints and exercised an average of 1.5 hours more.
In another study, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley recruited 300 adults with mental health difficulties, including those suffering from anxiety and depression. The subjects were randomly divided into three groups.
All groups received counselling, but the first group was also instructed to write one letter of gratitude to another person, every week, for three weeks. The second group was asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings, focusing on negative experiences and the third group did no writing activity.
Improved mental health outcomes
What were the findings? Compared to the participants who wrote about negative experiences or only received counselling, those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health for up to 12 weeks after the writing exercise ended.
This suggests that expressing gratitude can be beneficial not just for healthy, well-adjusted individuals, but also for those who struggle with mental health concerns. In fact, it seems, practising gratitude on top of receiving psychological counselling carries greater benefits than counselling alone, even when that gratitude practice is brief.
“If you’re going to start counting all of your problems, then it would only be fair to start counting all of your blessings as well.”
If you’re not sure where to start, maybe you’d like to try hypnosis to help you access the creative, insightful part of your mind.