Gratitude: How a Simple Act Can Ward Off Depression
It’s easy to overlook your fortunes in life. Good health, happy relationships, and even a roof over your head are some of the things we all take for granted at times. Counting your blessings and being grateful are often acts you have to consciously remember to do on special occasions or holidays. But true gratitude — not simply going through the motions, but really feeling the feeling beneath the concept — can produce significant changes in your life, especially if you are prone to depression. In fact, gratitude is one of the most powerful acts that you can perform to ward off depression and to improve feelings of overall well-being. A study published in the August 2008 issue of the Journal of Research in Personality confirms this assertion — in two longitudinal studies, researchers found that gratitude does indeed reduce depression and stress and helps to improve perceptions of social support. The practice of gratitude likely accomplishes these goals by increasing your levels of “feel-good” hormones like DHEA and reducing stress hormones like cortisol.
How Depression Affects Your Viewpoint
When you feel depressed, it’s easy to see everything as gloom and doom. Depression causes symptoms that make you feel like you’re dragging your feet through the mud. Physically, you might experience an increase in unexplained aches and pains, sleep disturbance and appetite changes. Mentally and emotionally, you might experience anhedonia, or a lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed and relationships with those important to you, feel tearful and sad and sometimes just feel like life isn’t really worth the effort. Feeling grateful might seem like an insurmountable task. You might be unable to see the beauty that surrounds you or the love that others have for you and find little or no meaning in your life. Some people think depression causes them to live more realistically –but this is, of course, not the case. After all, life is a combination of the good and the bad, and these things tend to ebb and flow with some regularity for everyone. It’s really not all terrible, although it might feel that way at times.
Seek and Ye Shall Find
You find what you seek in life. When you’re depressed, it’s all too easy to focus on what’s not going well in your life. It takes an extra effort to focus on the things — no matter how small – that are going well. But being grateful doesn’t mean that you see the world through rose-colored glasses. It doesn’t mean denying that things in your life could be better. What gratitude means is cultivating an appreciation for the things you have and paying more attention to and being mindful of the things that are going well. Gratitude can help you balance out feelings of negativity and some of the other symptoms of depression and help create an improved feeling of harmony and balance in your life.
The glass might seem half-empty right now, but with a little practice and determination, you may be able to shift toward seeing the glass as half-full, at least some of the time. Start by listing the things that you like in your life — everyone has at least one. Even if you think it’s something small, find at least one thing to be grateful for every day when you wake up and add it to your list. Start appreciating the little as well as the “bigger” things in life, whether it’s a beautiful sunset, a healthy body, a phone call from a loved one or even finding a parking space at a crowded mall. Try to reframe negative situations as positive — no matter how difficult, there’s always something that the challenges in life can teach us.