The holiday season has begun and while this is a festive and joyous time, many people still experience anxiety, depression and stress during this time of year. If you find yourself struggling with depression in the midst of all the holiday cheer, you might be interested to know that perhaps the most important aspect of Thanksgiving actually can lift your mood. The links between gratitude and depression are backed by studies and scientific research that tell you that giving thanks can make you a healthier, happier individual.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is derived from the Latin word, gratia, which can mean several things depending upon the context. Gratia means thanks, being grateful, graciousness and gracefulness. Harvard Health states “[i]n some ways gratitude encompasses all of these meanings. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible.” To practice gratitude, you must acknowledge that your life is full of great things, even if you don’t always feel that way. In doing so, you will usually realize that there are many things outside of yourself that you are appreciative of and that give your life meaning and pleasure. Harvard notes that “…gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature or a higher power.”
It is important to note that realizing how much better off you are than others does not equal gratitude. You can certainly appreciate that you have a car that drives you where you need to go, that you don’t have to worry about where you’re next meal is coming from or that you have clothes that fit and are clean, but gratitude is not about making comparisons. Gratitude is all about you taking the time to truly acknowledge and appreciate what you have in your life.
Gratitude and Depression: The Science Behind it
In an article published on Psychology Today, author Alex Korb, Ph.D., several studies on gratitude and your health and happiness are summarized with the links being clear. A 2003 study lead by American researchers recruited young adults to see what effect gratitude has on happiness. One group of young adults was asked to keep a daily gratitude journal and to write in it every day. Other groups of young adults was also asked to keep a daily journal, and one group was told to write about things that annoyed them while the other was told to journal about ways in which they realized they were better off than others. “The young adults assigned to keep gratitude journals showed greater increases in determination, attention, enthusiasm and energy compared to the other groups.” The same researchers then conducted a separate study on adults and the findings were consistent with those of the young adult study findings. In the adult study, the links between gratitude and happiness were observed even if the adults did not write in the journal daily, and the researchers also noticed that exercise patterns approved in adults who were mindful of things to be thankful for.
How to Cultivate Gratitude
“Regardless of the inherent or current level of someone’s gratitude, it’s a quality that individuals can cultivate further,” according to Harvard Health. Your daily life is filled with so many stresses and obligations that it can be all too easy to forget how so many amazing things happen each and every day. It doesn’t have to take a natural disaster, like Hurricane Katrina, for you to realize that the simplest of things are sources of gratitude: running water, electricity and shelter. Practicing gratitude requires commitment and consistency in order to truly live a grateful life. One quick and easy way to practice gratitude daily is to keep a small notebook beside or near your bed. At night, before you tuck yourself into bed, write down at least one thing for which you were grateful that day.
Anxiety, stress and depression are incredibly common occurrences and taking proactive steps to combat these feelings can help empower you and significantly improve your mental health. A gratitude journal is an excellent way to decrease feelings of depression. Investing just a small amount of money for a notebook and pen (both of which you probably already have in your home) and a small amount of time each night can help significantly reduce depression.