Giving Thanks Can Help Depression
Got the blues? Need a quick pick me up? Try to come up with something to be grateful for, instead of focusing on the negative thinking that’s bouncing around inside your head. You’ll feel better for it.
Being thankful, or grateful, for what you have, instead of sorely dwelling on what you don’t have, can improve symptoms of depression, bring about better physical health and even make one inclined to exercise more regularly. These were the results of a study that appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. And if gratitude is practiced regularly, it can improve your whole outlook on life.
Gratitude Affects Brain Chemistry
In another study, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), researchers found that while subjects focused on feelings of gratitude they had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus controls a person’s eating, drinking, sleeping, metabolism and stress levels, among a variety of other bodily functions. Increased activity in the hypothalamus can contribute to such positive effects as a decrease in depression, establishing a better sleep pattern and even help reduce those little aches and pains that everyone suffers from day to day. All this can result from just appreciating what you already have.
The study also showed that feelings of thankfulness have a direct impact on the region of the brain that is associated with a neurotransmitter called dopamine. When dopamine is released into a person’s system, it imparts a feel-good emotion. It is sometimes referred to as the reward neurotransmitter. When feeling grateful or expressing gratitude gives you that feel-good emotion, you are likely to continue acting that way, to get the reward of the pleasant feeling that dopamine releases.
Gratitude Isn’t a One-Shot Deal
A one-time effort at being grateful isn’t likely to help reduce your depression or increase positive thoughts and actions in your life. Like most things that make you feel good about yourself, showing gratitude takes practice.
Exercising helps you stay toned and in shape, and helps keep your weight in check only as long as you continue to do it. Once you start slacking off, your muscle tone begins to fade and the pounds begin to creep on. As with many things in our lives, the old adage, “use it or lose it,” rings true in respect to the benefits you can gain from being thankful.
Other researchers who studied the benefits gained from practicing gratitude on a regular basis came up with the following findings:
- People can feel less hostile and thereby lower their blood pressure
- They are more likely to quit smoking or lose weight
- Caregivers for relatives with Alzheimer’s disease may feel less stress, lightening any depression that may be creeping into their lives
- Phobias, bulimia, depression and alcoholism appeared to be less likely to crop up in the lives of those who practiced gratitude
Maintain Your Attitude of Gratitude
Even something as simple as writing a thank-you note can lift someone’s mood, just by thinking that they made someone else’s day better because you made them feel appreciated. The more you express a feeling or attitude, the more you amplify it. Therefore, if you consistently express gratitude, you become more grateful, and being grateful has been shown to have positive effects on your well-being.
It is a fact of life that you will run into negativity on a regular basis, but how you handle it can dictate the way you look at life. Saying thank you, and hearing it, helps to boost your self-esteem and feel valued as a member of society. In this way, gratitude can motivate us to offer more of ourselves to others, and in reducing depression, helps us to have a better outlook on the world in general.