Mental Health Benefits of Gratitude


‘Tis the season to be seasonal.  You’ve probably noticed that intense seasonality begins in America somewhere around mid-October and carries through the New Year.   Thanksgiving/Christmas themes dominate the media and commercial landscape.  Eggnog milkshakes, pumpkin pie latte, candy cane chai, and gravy soda.    Gravy soda?  Yep.  It’s an acquired taste.  Beyond holiday flavored beverages, I was recently reading some seasonal research on the efficacy of gratitude.  This month’s Harvard Mental Health Letter has an article describing some recent studies on the impact of giving thanks on personal and relational wellbeing.  The findings are pretty compelling.

In one study by UC-Davis and University of Miami researchers, three groups were asked to journal a few sentences per week about assigned topics.  Group one wrote about things they were thankful for that week.  Group two wrote about daily annoyances and displeasing events.  Group three simply described either positive or negative events.  At the end of ten weeks, the gratitude group was significantly more optimistic and felt more positive about their lives.  They also had more physical energy and made fewer trips to the doctor than the other two study groups.

Another researcher out of the University of Pennsylvania looked at how various treatment strategies impact individual happiness.  The intervention that produced the greatest increase in happiness measures was the gratitude assignment.  Participants were asked to write and personally deliver a letter thanking someone for a previously unrecognized kindness.  The increase in happiness scores was immediate in the treatment group with benefits lasting for a month.  Gee, most antidepressant meds take about five weeks to work and their half-life is only about 48 hours.

And finally, another study examined gratitude’s impact on relationships.  In this study, individual marriage partners who consistently expressed gratitude for their partner felt more positive toward the other person.  Interestingly,  the gratitude oriented couples also felt more comfortable relating concerns in the relationship.  Thanksgiving created a relational climate of expected goodwill and a corresponding freedom of honest communication.

The Harvard Mental Health Letter recommends the following activities to increase gratitude and happiness:  Write a thank you letter, keep a thanksgiving journal, count your blessings or pray.  Those are some pretty solid exercises for resilient mental health functioning.  Not surprisingly, God’s Word has quite a bit to say about the application of thanksgiving in daily life:

  •   Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and   supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to   God … Philippians 4:6.
  •   And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which   also you were called in one body; and be thankfulColossians 3:15.
  •   And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name   of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him … Colossians 3:17.
  •   Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with   thanksgivingColossians 4:2.
  •   … in everything give thanks; for this is the   will of God in Christ Jesus for you… 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
  •   Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice   of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His   name … Hebrews 13:15.


There are also numerous Old Testament verses on thanksgiving…especially in the Psalms.  Check out the list on the Goodnews Dispatch website.  You’ll be impressed that the Scriptures understood the value of gratitude a few thousand years before this month’s Harvard Mental Health Letter.   Go figure.


Okay…here’s your mental health menu for this Thanksgiving Day fortnight:   Offer up a minimum of five expressions of gratitude per day.  Make gratitude as regular as three daily meals and two snacks.  If you’re doing Weight Watchers, gratitude scores zero points on the 2011 dietary guidelines.   So you can binge on gratitude.  Indulge in gratitude.  And unlike gravy soda, being thankful is available all year round.


Have a terrific Thanksgiving Day…and Thanksgiving Year.

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