How Gratitude Can Change Lives Even If It Doesn't Help Anxiety or Depression

Have you ever been told to “count your blessings” when you confess that you’re feeling depressed? Or perhaps a well-meaning friend has suggested that you create a gratitude list when you’re experiencing anxiety. 

Could practicing gratitude really help with anxiety or depression? Find out the surprising answer below.

Can Gratitude Help With Anxiety or Depression?

If you're in that terrible place where nothing seems to matter anymore and there just isn't any light left in your eyes—where all you want to do is nothing at all—or maybe you're out and going about life but inside you feel hollow or like a thudding emptiness, you may be leaning into clinical depression. (And first of all we strongly recommend you find a professional to help because they really CAN and DO help. We've been there.) So getting help is the first thing. But then there are all of these well-meaning people who seem to think that if you'd just dig up a little gratitude, maybe you'd feel better. And yeah, we want to punch them, too. But we decided to try to see if there's anything at all to the idea.

Studies show that practicing gratitude may boost our mood in many different ways. Okay, yeah, that makes sense. Stay with us though. We might feel more satisfied with our lives, experience appreciation for both people and places, and even become more outgoing. And all these benefits may lead us to assume that gratitude might also help with anxiety and depression. But a recent study indicated that assumption may not be true. 

Boom. So shut up, right? Quit telling people that are struggling that what they really need is to feel grateful. We're there with you. But it turns out that there are some other things that it does do, so maybe we shouldn't just toss it out. (We should be more mindful about not bringing it up as a cure for depression though.)

Researchers analyzed what happened when depressed or anxious study participants received what is known as a “gratitude intervention.” They found that any improvements were minimal. (And we'd wager the resentment was high!)

Based on what they called “relatively modest” benefits, the researchers recommended alternative treatments for anxiety and depression. 

How Can Gratitude Change Your Life if not By Curing Depression?

Health experts say that when we take the time to feel grateful, we may boost our overall health and happiness. Benefits include:

  • Improved quality of sleep
  • Better resilience
  • Higher levels of satisfaction with life
  • Stronger relationships
  • Sense of optimism

Okay but let's be real here. If you're depressed, gratitude isn't going to come easy. It's going to be hard and take sincere effort to dig it up and some of us may not be able to do so without a lot of practice or for a very long time. This is why we say the first step is to please, please, get help for your depression. But then, if you come back around to maybe, just maybe I was to grab up some of the rewards of a gratitude-based approach to life, well then we've got you. Let's look at how to do it.

How to Practice Gratitude Daily

While we may remember to feel grateful on special occasions, it’s not always easy to practice gratitude daily. We may want to experiment with different techniques and acknowledge that everyone has a different approach to this. It's really about tuning into the self more than anything and as such, your way is the perfect way.

For Maria in The Sound of Music, thinking about “raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens,” and other “favorite things” lifts her spirits. Other (maybe more modern) methods of practicing gratitude include:

  • Taking time each day to reflect on 5-10 blessings in your life.
  • Keeping a gratitude journal that contains those daily blessings.
  • Sharing feelings of gratitude with others, whether through a text, email, or call.
  • Creating a gratitude jar, putting in a slip of paper each time we feel grateful.
  • Trying to name ten things you're grateful for as fast as you can.
  • Making it a game with children, alternating turns, listing things to be grateful for.
  • If gratitude is too hard, try listing ten things you like.
  • Write down things you're grateful for and put them in a jar, then draw them out when you can't think of anything to remind yourself that you are very grateful for some things even if you can't think of them right this second.

Practicing gratitude regularly allows us to improve the quality of our lives in myriad ways even if it doesn't really help us much in terms of clinical depression or anxiety. From our relationships to our sleep, our mental and physical health may benefit from regular practice at gratitude. And as above, always seek help for depression at the first sign and don't rely on platitudes from well-meaning people to try to cure it. But if you have things to be grateful for, looking them in the eye can help in plenty of other ways. We at Wellness are grateful for our readers. 

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11/20/2023 5:00:00 AM
Wellness Editor
Written by Wellness Editor
Wellness Exists to Empower Health Conscious Consumers. helps people live healthier, happier and more successful lives by connecting them with the best health, wellness and lifestyle information and resources on the web.
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