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Practicing Gratitude to Boost Mental Well-being

     

Good mental health means emotional, social and psychological well-being, healthy relationships, effective functioning and productive activities, and an ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity. One approach that has been shown to foster mental well-being is focusing on gratitude. Many studies have found an association between being more grateful and a greater sense  of overall well-being.

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Description automatically generatedGratitude is demonstrated by strong connections with positive emotions and feelings such as being hopeful, inspired, forgiving, and excited. Gratitude refers to the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself—it is a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation.

Can you increase gratitude through training and practice? That was the question addressed in a recent study examining the lasting effects of a six-week gratitude training intervention on mental well-being. Researchers in the Netherlands, led by Ernst T. Bohlmeijer, Ph.D., evaluated the impact of a gratitude training for people with low to moderate well-being and moderate symptoms of depression and anxiety. They were seeking to identify a simple low-intensity intervention that could be used to promote and sustain mental health and well-being.

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Description automatically generatedIn a randomized controlled trial of more than 200 participants, the researchers compared three groups: one group practicing various gratitude exercises; one performing self-kindness acts (active control group); and one with no intervention (waitlist control group).  The six-week training intervention consisted of daily (5 days/week) gratitude exercises, mostly writing exercises, that took about 15 minutes a day. Participants undertook a different exercise each week, among them were a week of daily writing in a gratitude diary (writing about good things each day); taking another perspective (imagining and writing about life without some aspect of daily life, such as clean water from the tap or a pet); and expressing gratitude to someone in writing or in person.

The study found the gratitude training was more effective at improving mental well-being than the self-kindness intervention or waitlist control. The effects of practicing gratitude on mental well-being were maintained for six months after the training.

The study findings suggest that a six-week gratitude training program is an effective, low-intensity intervention for enhancing mental well-being. “The sustained effects on various measures of gratitude up to 6 months follow-up suggest that it is possible to promote a lasting appreciative perspective on life,” the study authors conclude.

Even in stressful or distressing times, or maybe especially in those times, it can be helpful to take time to remember people and things for which you are grateful.  Here are a few simple strategies and exercises you can use to enhance your gratitude.

  • Journaling about things for which to be grateful
  • Writing/sending a letter to someone for whom you are grateful
  • Using mindfulness mediation to focus on what you are grateful for
  • Undertaking the “Count Your Blessings” exercise (once a day writing down three things for which you were grateful)
  • Practicing saying “thank you” in a sincere and meaningful way
  • Writing thank you notes

(Adapted from RA Sansone and LA Sansone and Harvard Health)

 

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