While it may seem simple, researchers are learning that being more grateful and expressing appreciation in your life can actually lead to improved mental health and alter your overall state of mind. Practicing gratitude not only helps you see the positive aspects of your life, but it can relieve feelings of depression, improve your mood, and alter your overall mindset in positive ways.
How Gratitude Changes Your Brain
Whether you have a healthy mental state, or you suffer from symptoms such as depression or anxiety, when you focus on gratitude and your appreciation in life, you are more likely to be able to cope with and respond to negative emotions. Recent research indicated that those who were receiving counseling saw dramatically improved results when they were asked to write a weekly letter of appreciation versus when they focused solely on their negative experiences or just participated in counseling sessions.
This study, along with many others over the past decade, show that a conscious effort to give thanks for the positive aspects of your life can lead to a more positive outlook, a better feeling about your future, and improved abilities to find solutions to problems and overcome obstacles.
When you focus on appreciating the positive aspects of your life, you will also learn how to deal with and let go of negative emotions that could cause you psychological harm. When you spend more time acknowledging and celebrating the positive aspects of your life, you leave less room for negativity and are have less energy for focusing on negative emotions or circumstances.
Being grateful can help you even when you do not share your appreciation with others, too. While some people choose to write letters or talk with the people in their lives about why they are grateful, this act of sharing is not really necessary to enjoy all the benefits that gratitude can offer your life. What is important is that you take the time to think about your appreciation, and while the act of writing is not necessary, it is a reflective practice that helps you think through how you feel and your reasons for feeling grateful.
Another important takeaway from the research on gratitude is that this activity is essential to do regularly, and its effects may not be felt right away. Retraining your brain takes time, and when you start to shift your attitude from negativity towards the more positive aspects of your life, your mind will need time to adjust. The good news is that it only takes a few weeks of regular gratitude practice to see differences, so you do not have to wait for months or even years to notice how your mindset is shifting.
When you regularly focus on your gratitude, the benefits to your mindset will be felt for a long time, as it has a lasting effect on your brain. People who feel more grateful are more likely to be generous toward others, to see positive acts in their lives, and to be more attuned to the experiences of other people, making you more empathetic. Regularly practicing gratitude seems to activate parts of the brain associated with empathy and compassion, and these effects are noted long after gratitude exercises are stopped.
Regardless of if you are dealing with mental health challenges or not, being more grateful and regularly reflecting on your gratitude can influence your mind in positive ways. Take some time each day to consider what you are grateful for and the blessing you have in your life. When you spend your time focusing on the positive instead of the negative, you will notice improvements in many aspects of your life, including your state of mind.