Gratitude and mental health: Why it’s good to say ‘Thank You’

Woman praying Gratitude (Image: Canva)

Have you ever felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for everything you have? A month ago, I may have said, “Yeah, me neither.” Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing apart from my dark outlook towards life to complain about. But as someone with pathological pessimism, I never warmed up to the idea of feeling thankful for something… until recently.

A change in perspective

It happened a few weeks ago. It was 6 am and I had already logged in for work, sitting on my bed. The world outside was still dredged in pre-winter darkness. I went through my emails, preparing for the long day ahead, my mind already reset to ‘despair’ mode.

It had been a tough month for me. It seemed like my own body was out of my control. My endometriosis had flared up, migraines were frequent and fatigue was the order of the day. But worst of all was the foul mood.

As I stared at my laptop screen, my body aching and my brain weary, my phone lit up. It was a message from my colleague: “I know you are not feeling well. Don’t log in today. We will handle it.”

We are a closely-knit team at work. Even with one less pair of hands, all hell can break loose.

In my sadness-induced stupor, a simple reassuring message from my colleague turned things around. “How did she know?” I wondered.

The pall of gloom lifted. I felt an overwhelming gush of gratitude, setting something off inside me in motion.

I looked at my weary husband who stirred in his sleep bothered by the glare of my laptop screen. He never complained.

Just the night before, he had to handle me at my worst. It was one of those rows that ended with him apologising, because he, like always, was the bigger person.

My heart was full. I thought about everything I had at the moment. An understanding partner, dependable friends, loving parents, good colleagues and above all, a resilient mind. I said a small thank you… and took the rest of the day off.

Gratitude can be powerful. It sure did put me in a good mood.

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The power of  ‘Thank You’

Gratitude is the state of feeling thankful. It is appreciating what is valuable and meaningful in your life.

Gratitude is recognising the good in your life and acknowledging that another person, the universe or a divine being is responsible for it.

Many empirical studies have found a link between gratitude and an overall sense of well being. Since gratitude is a positive experience, it will breed more good feelings.

As we know, positive feelings spark happiness, reducing blood pressure and heart rate. But apart from improving your health, being thankful for what you have makes you savour all your good experiences better, strengthen you to face adversities and improve your relationships.

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How gratitude turns your life around

Just by writing down three to five things you are grateful for during the day, life can change for the better, say studies.

Happiness is the outcome, according to the 2012 study “Do positive psychology exercises work? A replication of Seligman et al.” by Mongrain and Anselmo-Matthews.

With gratitude, you are more satisfied with life. It can elevate your life satisfaction, says Manthey et al. and reduce negative affect says a 2013 study by Chan D.W titled “Counting blessings versus misfortunes: positive interventions and subjective well-being of Chinese school teachers in Hong Kong.”

Gratitude reduces stress, according to a 2015 study by Kerr S. L., O’Donovan A., and Pepping C. A. Gratitude can even tone down symptoms of depression.

Research has also shown that practising gratitude can improve your social relationships. It can boost relationship formation and maintenance.

Your physical health improves. And it helps you sleep better.

How to practise gratitude

There’s nothing to lose, only gain from gratitude. To start with,  journal about things you are grateful about. Journaling as a habit has some real mental health benefits.

Think about someone you are grateful for — your parents, your friends or your significant other.

Write to someone you are grateful for.

Meditate on gratitude. Be aware of everything that makes your life meaningful.

Count your blessings every day… or at the end of the week. Write down three things that went well for you.

And more than anything else, say “Thank you” and mean it.