Practicing Gratitude: Better than an Antidepressant

Practicing Gratitude is awesome! Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. There is significant research in positive psychology that demonstrates that gratitude is associated with greater happiness. And, more importantly, the research shows that people can grow in their ability to express gratitude. Consequently, as a part of our holistic approach to counseling, alternative therapies and affirmation therapy, we encourage people to keep a gratitude journal: write down each day 3 – 5 things for which the person is grateful.

Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. In one study by two of the leading research psychologists in this area, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, after keeping a gratitude journal for ten weeks, people were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. They also began to exercise more and went to the doctor less often.

Other research has shown that practicing gratitude enhances relationships. In one study, individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner felt more positive toward the other person and felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.

In family counseling we educate parents about the benefits of having their children keep gratitude journals, as well as themselves. Research (Froh, Sefick, Emmons, 2008) has shown that children who practice grateful thinking:

• Have more positive attitudes toward school and their families.

• Are more likely to achieve personal goals. (Students who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals–academic, interpersonal and health-based, over a two-month period compared to the control group.)

• Have closer relationships

• Get better grades: Middle school students who kept gratitude journals for three weeks had an increased grade point average for the whole school year.

• Have greater energy, attentiveness, and enthusiasm.

As for its role in decreasing depression, the editor of The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2011, Kim A Jobst wrote, “This is ground-breaking work of global significance. It applies in all cultures at all times but especially in our pharmaceutically dominated culture of dependence. (Practicing gratitude is a)… low cost highly effective means to help people submerged in the sea of depression.” Jobst comments were in support of research published in the journal that demonstrated that Positive Activity Intervention (PAI), such as gratitude, allow people to “increase their positive cognitions, emotions, and behaviors…”

Reference: Kristin Layous, Joseph Chancellor, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Lihong Wang, P. Murali Doraiswamy. Delivering Happiness: Translating Positive Psychology Intervention Research for Treating Major and Minor Depressive Disorders. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2011; 17 (8): 675 DOI: 10.1089/acm.2011.0139

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