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“Be grateful!”, this is something we’ve possibly all heard at one point or another in our lives. Maybe we didn’t show appreciation for the food prepared especially for us, or we didn’t express gratitude for someone buying us a special gift, or spending an evening with us despite other pressing deadlines. There’s also a lot of pressure and insistence from mental health professionals for people to express gratitude towards the things in their life, big or small.

But does being grateful actually help mental health? Research is showing us that it does! In a study with 67 female breast cancer survivors, a group of these participants were assigned to a 6-week online gratitude intervention, while the other half did not have this online course. Those who participated in the online gratitude intervention course experienced a significant decrease in fear of cancer recurrence than the control group. This brief gratitude intervention promoted well being and psychological adaptation to cancer. Gratitude has also been linked with reduced aggression and improved subjective well being. In a study of 96 male prisoners, a 5-week intervention decreased aggression and reports of well being compared to the control group.

How can we find ways to include gratitude in our daily living, ideally to the point where it becomes second-nature? One suggestion would be to focus on positive events that happen during the day before going to sleep. Research shows that doing this results in better sleep overall, including a better duration and better quality of sleep.

Another suggestion would be to think of someone who did something for you, and whom you didn’t thank properly. You could write them a letter or message expressing gratitude towards them, and why that action or thing was so significant for you. In this manner not only are you showing gratitude, but you’re also spreading the positivity to the people around you.

References

Algoe, S. B., & Zhaoyang, R. (2016). Positive psychology in context: Effects of expressing gratitude in ongoing relationships depend on perceptions of enactor responsiveness. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 11, 399–415. http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1080/17439760.2015.1117131

Otto, A. K., Szczesny, E. C., Soriano, E. C., Laurenceau, J.-P., & Siegel, S. D. (2016). Effects of a randomized gratitude intervention on death-related fear of recurrence in breast cancer survivors. Health Psychology, 35(12), 132

Mel McElhatton holds a degree in Social Work from the University of Malta. With Willingness, Mel does life coaching and is one of the facilitators in the IRL – In Real Life team. They are also the producer of the radio show Niddiskutu s-Sess. They can be contacted on mel@willingness.com.mt or call us on 79291817.