November is National Gratitude Month, which fits nicely with the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. As we celebrate the month of November, gratitude means shifting our focus to what is going well rather than focusing only on the negative. It turns out that being intentional about the practice of gratitude can have a significant impact on our lives, and it can even lead to a higher success rate in mental health treatment.
What Is Gratitude?
Before learning about the importance of gratitude for success in recovery, it’s helpful to have a baseline understanding of what gratitude means. Psychologists have described gratitude as involving the recognition that something positive has happened, as well as the acknowledgment that another person, or perhaps a divine being or force of nature, is responsible for that positive event. There is a growing body of research suggesting that gratitude plays an important role in well-being.
The Effect of Gratitude on Mental Health
Given the relationship between gratitude and well-being, researchers have taken an interest in whether gratitude is beneficial for clients seeking therapy. One recent study published in the journal Psychotherapy Research found that when clients in therapy participated in a gratitude writing intervention, they had significantly better mental health when compared to clients who participated in therapy without gratitude writing.
One of the control groups in the study completed an expressive writing task, but they did not experience the same mental health benefits that those in the gratitude group enjoyed. This suggests that it was not the writing that caused the improvement in mental health, but instead the focus on gratitude that led to this benefit.
A second study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that gratitude writing was linked to increases in positive emotions and feelings of happiness, as well as a reduction in negative emotions and symptoms of depression. Given this finding, gratitude could be beneficial for treating mental health conditions like depression and other mood disorders linked to negative emotions. At the very least, it can be helpful for improving negative emotional states.
How to Incorporate Gratitude into Daily Life
There is research evidence to suggest that gratitude interventions can improve success with mental health treatment, so it can be beneficial to learn how to incorporate these practices into daily life. Consider some of the strategies below:
- Gratitude Lists: Some of the research with gratitude interventions has asked people to make lists of things that make them feel grateful throughout the day. You might consider keeping a notebook by your bed to write a list at the end of the day, or you can keep a small notebook with you throughout the day to make a note of moments that lead to gratitude.
- Writing Letters to Others: Keep in mind that part of gratitude is acknowledging that someone else is responsible for your feeling grateful, so it can be impactful to take the time to write a letter to someone who has made you feel this way. This could be something as simple as writing a letter to your spouse or significant other to remind them that you’re grateful for their support or writing a note of thanks to a coworker or friend who has made your life easier.
- Gratitude Journaling: Another option is to keep an ongoing journal in which you are intentional about writing about things for which you are grateful. Rather than journaling about day-to-day life or focusing on all aspects of your day, a gratitude journal calls upon you to focus your attention on the positive aspects of your day.
- Write About Future Positive Events: Sometimes, gratitude isn’t just about focusing on what’s going well in the present but rather shifting your focus to positive things you expect to experience in the future. If things aren’t going so well at this moment, focusing on future positive events can help you to be more grateful. Thinking about future positive events can also help you to remember that bad times don’t last forever.
- Be Mindful of Positive Moments: Practicing mindfulness teaches you to pay attention to what is happening in the present rather than worrying about the past or future. Mindfulness interventions can be applied to the practice of gratitude, as they can help you to really savor positive moments. If you’re looking to cultivate gratitude, make an effort to be mindful during positive moments. What sort of emotions are you feeling? What sensations do you notice in your body? Stopping to really appreciate happy moments can help you to develop a more grateful mindset.
- Write About Positive Changes: We are likely to make a note of negative changes in our lives, but many of us neglect to acknowledge positive changes. Challenge yourself to make a note of positive changes in your life rather than fixating on the negative. For example, you might consider journaling at the end of each month to write about three positive changes, which will shift your thinking toward your blessings.
Using the gratitude interventions above can be an excellent add-on to traditional mental health treatments like counseling and therapy. Focusing on gratitude can help you to overcome negative thinking patterns, which can be quite healing for mental health conditions like depression or anxiety.
In addition, becoming more grateful has been associated with physical health benefits. Research on gratitude interventions has found that they are effective in improving sleep quality, blood pressure, eating habits, blood sugar control, and symptoms of asthma. Making an intentional effort to be more grateful can improve your life in multiple ways, which can enhance overall well-being and reduce some of the stress associated with physical ailments.
If you’re looking for Southern California outpatient mental health treatment, Mission Harbor Behavioral Health is here to help. We have offices in both Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, as well as service offerings for both teens and adults. Contact us today to learn more or to begin the admissions process.