Cultivating Gratitude To Improve Well-Being

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By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

Even though many of us believe we are grateful for what we have in our lives, we may not always use gratitude in our everyday life. Gratitude is defined as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” We may believe that we feel this way but can forget to stop and reflect on what we are grateful for as part of our daily routine. There are many mental health benefits associated with reflecting on gratitude. Including a gratitude exercise in your daily routine can not only improve your mood but can also influence your general well-being.

There are several ways one can cultivate gratitude. In one study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, older adults participated in a gratitude intervention to improve their well-being and non-clinical depression. Each adult was asked to write down three good things that they are grateful for in their life, every day for 15 days. As a result of this intervention, the adults showed significant improvement in happiness and well-being by the end of the intervention. This positive improvement continued to the 30 days follow-up. There was also a decrease in stress while participants were actively involved in the research study. This gratitude exercise has not only been shown to be an effective treatment, but it is also inexpensive for participants to join in this exercise. All you would need to participate in this exercise is a journal, either on your computer or in written form, and write down what you are grateful for each day.

In another study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, researchers used a gratitude contemplation intervention to improve mental health of individuals. When a person completed a 4-week gratitude contemplation exercise, they reported higher rates of self-esteem and satisfaction with their lives. It was also shown to consistently cultivate gratitude in a person’s everyday life. The positive effects of the treatment intervention were maintained over the course of the study. This study showed that daily participation in a gratitude exercise improved one’s well-being, in addition to various components of one’s mental health.

Another method you can use is to reflect on what you are grateful for at the end of each day. You can do this in bed before falling asleep or in a meditation, any method you find useful to contemplate the positive qualities of your life. I know from personal experience that it can sometimes be difficult to find things that you are grateful for when you have multiple stressful events thrown at you or you are dealing with chronic illness or pain. By making this exercise part of your daily routine, just as you would with brushing your teeth, you can temporarily shift your attention to what is going right in your life and receive all the mental health benefits that come along with it.


References

Gratitude (n.d.) In Google online. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/search?q=define+gratitude&oq=define+gratitu&aqs=chrome.0.69i59j69i57j0l4.3638j1j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Killen, A. & Macaskill, A. (August 2015). Using a gratitude intervention to enhance well-being in older adults. [Abstract] Journal of Happiness Studies, 16(4), 947-964. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-014-9542-3

Rash, J. A., Matsuba, M. K. & Prkachin, K. M. (27 October 2011). Gratitude and well-being: who benefits the most from a gratitude intervention? [Abstract] Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1758-0854.2011.01058.x

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