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How Gratitude Works to Improve Your Mental Health

by Pilar Tamburrino, MS, LMHC, CEAP

November is Gratitude Month! In keeping with the long-standing tradition of the harvest season, and being thankful for the abundance of produce the earth yields to sustain us, November continues to honor a time of giving thanks. As Thanksgiving approaches you may be wondering how on earth, you’re going to celebrate this year and what or who you are specifically thankful for.

Gratitude is a powerful human emotion. Did you know the word gratitude is derived from the Latin word ‘gratia’, which means gratefulness or thankfulness? In its simplest form, gratitude refers to a ‘state of thankfulness’ or a ‘state of being grateful’.

Psychologists have defined gratitude as a positive emotional response that we experience when giving or receiving a benefit from someone. A research study conducted by two Indiana University psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons, and Dr. Michael E. concluded that, after 10 weeks of expressing gratitude in one’s daily life, the evidence demonstrated that the groups who documented what they were grateful for, felt better about their life and had a more optimistic attitude. Other studies supported a direct model where gratitude led to lower levels of stress and depression as well as improved emotional resiliency (Woods, 2008).

The psychological benefits of gratitude from a scientific perspective, identify that when gratitude is expressed or received, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin (two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions) to make us feel ‘good.’ They enhance our mood immediately; making us feel an internal source of happiness. By consciously practicing gratitude every day, we can help these neural pathways strengthen and ultimately create an enduring sense of gratefulness and positivity within ourselves. Additionally, expressions of gratitude help in building and sustaining long-term relationships, dealing with adversities, and bouncing back from them with strength and motivation.

Many mental health intervention programs and life coaching methods include gratitude practices in their treatments through activities like journaling, group discussions and daily mindfulness.

Here are some meaningful ways to give thanks this season!

Write and send a note

Handwritten letters and notes are simple and meaningful ways to give thanks to the people in your life. These small gestures can mean the world to someone and give you an opportunity to express gratitude towards the people you love!

Donate or volunteer to a worthy cause

If there’s a problem in the world that you feel passionately about, look up organizations that are doing something about it. These organizations often rely on donations and can always use extra support. Additionally, you can always donate your time by volunteering.

Practice Thankfulness

It’s not easy to be constantly grateful or thankful for the things in your life. It takes focus, intent, and energy. But like almost anything in life, thankfulness can be practiced. One of the simplest ways to practice is to write down things for which you are grateful and thankful. You can keep a small notebook or journal to write these down in, so you have them all in one place and can reflect on them as time goes by. Try to set aside time every day to write down at least three things you are grateful for. Writing it down and seeing it on paper can help to recognize the positive aspects of your life.  

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” – Proverb   

Click here to read the full Mind and Matter Holiday Edition.