Growing up, my mom made us sit down and write thank you notes to family members for birthday and Christmas gifts. As a young kid, I found it a chore. It seemed silly, writing a thank you note when I had already thanked them for the gift in person! But, I’d do it anyway.
And, though I found the exercise tedious, I must admit I felt an uplift in my spirit as I sealed the envelope and dropped the letter in the mailbox. It seemed the act of thinking back on something, and showing gratitude for it, made my heart feel a little lighter.
Though my mom hadn’t read the research, she was on to something.
It was discovered that the group who expressed gratitude through their writing practice, reported better mental health at 4 and 12 weeks, over the other two groups. So, not only did expressing gratitude help them feel better in the moment, it also had effects long afterwards as well (Brown & Wong, 2017).
They continued the research further and found some more surprising things about gratitude.
research evidence on practicing gratitude
1. When an individual puts into practice the act of gratitude, it helps shift the mental focus from toxic emotions like jealousy and resentment, which contributes to better mental health.
2. The effects of gratitude writing take time. Generally, the thought has been that gratitude would decrease over time, like most feelings do when you are further removed from a situation. But gratitude has shown to have the opposite effect. Though you may feel a bit better after initially expressing gratitude, the practice actually has a snowball effect and you can continue to feel better over time.
3. Gratitude can actually rewire your brain. Brain scans were conducted on individuals who participated in this study. For those who took up the practice of gratitude, they were found to have ‘greater neural sensitivity’ in the medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with learning and decision making. This suggests that people who practice gratefulness are also more attentive to how they express gratitude. What surprised the researchers was that the brain scans were done 3 months after the study was concluded. It seemed that gratitude had helped train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude not only in the immediate, but in the future as well (Brown & Wong, 2017).
The simple act of practicing gratitude is a simple step towards improving your mental health now – and over time.
Thanks to Kingdom Edge Magazine, who featured my article.