In the realm of holistic health, where the synergy of mind, body, and spirit is paramount, recent research has illuminated a potent, fast, yet simple practice for mental wellness: gratitude.
Recent research, focusing on gratitude, has revealed remarkable findings. Studies consistently show that individuals actively practicing gratitude – the art of acknowledging and appreciating the positives in life – report increased happiness and a significant decrease in depressive symptoms. This is particularly notable in the context of complementary medicine, which emphasizes the healing power of positive thinking and emotional balance.
Interestingly, much of the gratitude research has been conducted with relatively healthy individuals. The recent study sought to delve deeper, exploring the impact of gratitude on those grappling with mental health challenges. The researchers engaged nearly 300 adults, primarily university students seeking mental health counseling, who reported low mental health levels at the outset.
Participants were divided into three groups. All received counseling, but one group also wrote gratitude letters weekly for three weeks. The findings were profound. Those who wrote gratitude letters experienced significantly better mental health four- and twelve-weeks post-exercise, compared to those who only received counseling or wrote about negative experiences. This underscores the complementary medical view that mental health is greatly influenced by our thoughts and emotions.
Deeper analysis revealed four key insights into how gratitude might function:
- Gratitude Liberates Us From Negative Emotions: The study found that gratitude writing shifts focus from toxic emotions like envy and resentment. Writing about gratitude reduces the use of negative emotional words, enhancing mental health.
- Unshared Gratitude Still Benefits: Participants who wrote but didn’t send their gratitude letters (only 23% sent them) also experienced the benefits of gratitude, suggesting that the act of expressing gratitude, even privately, is beneficial.
- Gratitude’s Benefits are Gradual: The positive effects of gratitude writing on mental health emerged over time, not immediately, highlighting the importance of patience and persistence in gratitude practices.
- Lasting Brain Effects of Gratitude: Using fMRI scans, we observed that those who wrote gratitude letters showed greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area linked to learning and decision-making, when they felt grateful. This suggests that gratitude practices may have enduring positive effects on the brain.
This research highlights the power of gratitude as a tool for psychological well-being.
I encourage everyone, regardless of their mental health status, to explore the practice of writing gratitude letters. This simple, yet powerful practice aligns with our natural, holistic approach to health, emphasising the importance of nurturing our mental and emotional well-being as part of overall health. Gratitude, it seems, is not just a feeling, but a transformative practice, offering a pathway to a healthier, more balanced life.
Y. Joel Wong, Jesse Owen, Nicole T. Gabana, Joshua W. Brown, Sydney McInnis, Paul Toth & Lynn Gilman (2018) Does gratitude writing improve the mental health of psychotherapy clients? Evidence from a randomized controlled trial, Psychotherapy Research, 28:2, 192-202, DOI: 10.1080/10503307.2016.1169332
Greater Good Magazine: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain?utm_source=Greater+Good+Science+Center&utm_campaign=550397ebed-GGIA_Newsletter_November_2023&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5ae73e326e-550397ebed-51892611
Begin your gratitude practice by downloading The CMA’s Gratitude Journal here:
Please feel free to distribute this incredibly helpful, fully evidence-based workbook to your friends, colleagues and loved-ones, with our gratitude!