well-being

Cultivating Gratitude To Improve Well-Being

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(Photo Credit: Natalie Board)

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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Giving Service to Improve Your Mental Health

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(Photo Credit: Dragon Images via Shutterstock)

By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi

There are many tools we can use to help better our overall mental health, but there is one thing we can do that can better someone else’s life in addition to our own life. This tool is the act of giving service to others. There are many reasons to give service to someone else, but it has been lesser known until recent years that many mental health benefits are associated with volunteer work. Since there are so many health benefits, it is now considered a form of self-care.

When you gives to others, your brain releases chemicals, including dopamine and oxytocin. These chemicals are responsible for brightening your mood and giving you a sense of calm and harmony. When you are experiencing a lot of stress in your life and are having a difficult time managing stress, giving service to a family member, friend, or your community could help improve your mood. It is another tool to add to your mental health toolbox that can help bring your mood back to a more manageable level.

Philanthropy also has some physical benefits. One study found that when a person volunteers on a regular basis, that person’s risk for developing hypertension (high blood pressure) decreases significantly. The same study also found an association between regular volunteer work and increased psychological well-being and physical activity. Both these factors are important for better overall health.

Helping others can also help establish purpose in our lives. It can help us discover our role within our community and help us feel more connected. In addition, it could lead us toward finding something we are passionate about and open new doors for us. I know multiple people who have found new careers they are passionate about from volunteering within their community.

Sometimes it can be difficult to find time to volunteer when you have so many other things going on in your life. There are ways you can give service to others without being part of an organized volunteer group or event. Offer to mow your neighbor’s lawn when you are mowing your own. Bring a friend dinner when they are sick. Volunteer to help strangers load groceries in their car if you notice they need assistance. Little things like these are considered giving service to others, and they are easy tasks for one to complete.

In my personal life, I try to be mindful of how I can give service to others each day. When things are busy, it can be hard to notice little things, but by being in a mindset of giving service, it helps open my eyes to things I can do to help others. Whether it’s opening the door for someone or picking up trash in my community park, there are little things that not only help my community, but also help my well-being and mood.


References

Renter, Elizabeth, “What Generosity Does to Your Brain and Life Expectancy.” U.S. News Health, May 1, 2015, https://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2015/05/01/what-generosity-does-to-your-brain-and-life-expectancy. Accessed March 30, 2018.

Sneed, R. S., & Cohen, S. (2013). A prospective study of volunteerism and hypertension risk in older adults. Psychology and Aging, 28(2), 578-586.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0032718. Accessed March 30, 2018.

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