By Jenn Bovee, LCSW, CRADC, CCHt, EMDR Trained, The Mental Wellness Center
Intentional gratitude is such a deeply powerful and healing modality, and yet, at the mere mention of the word, it is often discounted and dismissed. I often wonder if gratitude got a bad rap because people just sling it around like an emotional band-aid that you are somehow supposed to self-administer with the goal of solving all of your life issues. While I don’t think gratitude is a magic cure-all, I do believe that there is some convincing research that says gratitude is very effective for improving your mental health and mental well-being.
The first piece of research I came across was several years ago when I attended a training by Dr. Daniel Amen. He explained that he had witnessed people raise their quality of life within three weeks when they focused on three “gratefuls” each week. I have since learned that the method in which you focus on your gratitude is less important than the actual focus on being grateful. Following are some of the benefits of being grateful that you may want to explore to experience the bonus of gratitude.
- Increases Mental Strength: Gratitude reduces stress as well as assists in overcoming trauma. Developing a consistent attitude focusing on gratitude helps your overall satisfaction with life. It’s easy and common, due to stress or trauma, to get sucked into the negative cycle of thinking or talking about things. Training your brain to focus on gratitude increases your overall mental strength.
- Lasting Impact on The Brain: Research has shown that when focusing on gratitude specifically, there is greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex (as evidenced by an fMRI scan). This was achieved by something as simple as writing gratitude letters for three months. The conclusion was that the practice of writing things you are grateful for could have a positive impact on your mental health.
- Improves Self-Esteem: When using gratitude with athletes, it has proven to enhance their performance. Other studies regarding the impact of gratitude show that it reduces the impact of comparisons. In experiences where a person would historically become resentful about someone else having a better job, opportunity, or even more money, grateful people can appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
- Gives Us Freedom from Toxic Emotions: Changing our brains from automatically going to the negative, or even searching for something bad to happen, to just allowing ourselves to be grateful for something frees us from all those toxic emotions. When freed from those toxic emotions, it allows us to experience more peace, more serenity, and more happiness in our life. This also brings physical health benefits.
Some people would argue that it does not matter how you express your gratitude. I would encourage you to handwrite your gratitude list. While we live in a very electronic and digital era, this is really something that is more effective if done the old-fashioned way. When we handwrite our gratitude, our subconscious mind accepts that programming on a deeper level.
Developing an “attitude of gratitude” is truly one of the simplest ways to live a happier, more satisfying life. However, if you are experiencing signs of depression, anxiety, or excess stress it is beneficial to seek out the help of a licensed mental health professional.
For help with any mental wellness issue, contact The Mental Wellness Center at 309-807-5077 or e-mail at info@TheMentalWellnessCenter.com. They have multiple therapists on staff who specialize in children, adolescents, adults, couples, and family issues, to name a few. Their office is located at 205 N. Williamsburg Dr, Suite D, Bloomington. They are invested in empowering you to return to—or achieve, possibly for the first time ever—a state of complete mental wellness.