With Gratitude Comes Great Mental Health (See These 4 Benefits!)

  • “The sound of my parents laughing together.”
  • “My sister’s recent health recovery.”
  • “The new flowers blossoming outside my front door.”
  • “This morning’s awesome sunrise.”
  • “Being asked to join the table for lunch.”

There’s no list quite like a gratitude list.

Fun to make, meaningful to share and moving to re-read, gratitude lists are more powerful than most people realize when it comes to mental health. Have you ever authored one before? If so, do you recall how you felt after setting your pen down and reviewing your writing? It’s a pretty phenomenal feeling – one that can provide you with honest perspective when you need it most. Not only does this activity prompt you to take an intimate look inward at your life, but it offers you the chance to re-experience the aspects of it that are most beautiful.

It’s not always the fancy vacations or big parties, either.

It’s the neighbor checking in on your dog’s surgery, that first sip of hot coffee or your partner holding your hand and saying, “I’m so proud of you.” These are the life-changing moments that make everything else worth it. On our worst days, these seemingly-small happenstances remind us what really matters.

From time to time, darkness will find a way of inserting itself into the nooks and crannies of our experiences. It’s true, the ups and downs of life are unavoidable. But negative emotions do not have to prevail. At Girls on the Run, we empower girls to find their Star Power and keep their heads up no matter what life throws at them. We know that when we combat negativity with gratitude, our joy, optimism and inner light remains ignited and we find the strength to keep pushing through.

This is precisely why jotting our gratitude’s down via list-making or journaling is such a useful tool. Once the pen hits the page, it’s hard to let go of the memory.

When we cast an intentional spotlight on these instances, we simultaneously are catering to the needs of our mental health. The connection between gratitude and great mental health is substantial and has at the center of countless recent studies. (Trust us, there are quite a few!) This National Mental Health Awareness Month, care for your mind by taking a second to appreciate everything around you. In the list below, you’ll find four mental health benefits that come from practicing gratitude. Prioritize the positive and enrich your brain in the process!

Deepen Connections with Others

Who knew jotting down a gratitude list could impact the relationships in our lives? Gratitude has the power to positively transform our bonds with one another (even strangers) and ignite new friendships. People who practice gratitude are more inclined to provide a listening ear and offer emotional support. In addition, they are often more forgiving, as they have a wider, more empathetic worldview.

When we share specific things we appreciate with others it also presents an opportunity for bonding and establishing common ground. For example, next time you meet someone new you can share how much you value spending time outside with your dog. Who knows, maybe they have a pet too and you can pass fur-baby stories back and forth! Without your appreciation of this moment, you never would have had this chance to connect!

Increase Self-Assurance

By remaining grateful, you avoid the curse of comparison. We’ve all heard the quote, ‘comparison is the thief of joy’, and recognize its accuracy. When you are truly grateful for your individual gifts, moments and experiences, a blinder to all of the other distractions goes up. No matter the obstacle, where there is a grateful spirit — one that does not judge and finds beauty in the small things — there is self-assurance. Set your sights solely on these areas (as opposed to those in others’ lives) and you will live with a confident, satisfied and encouraged heart.

When you find yourself becoming envious of someone’s Instagram post, trip to the Bahama’s or job promotion, remember that you have an entire list of your OWN wins to focus on. Expend your energy where it counts.

Improve Sleep Quality

Forget counting sheep or buying a new mattress — an attitude of gratitude might be all you need to get a perfect night’s rest. In a 2009 study, four psychologists aimed to find a connection between restfulness and gratitude. Ultimately, the study found that participants who practice gratitude experience greater subjective sleep quality/duration, and less sleep latency and daytime disfunction.

It’s common to rattle through to-do lists upon settling into bed, so why not remodel this behavior with something beneficial? The next time you close your eyes and prepare for sleep, revisit five moments of the past day that brought you joy. Focus in on those, how they made you feel and *poof* you’ll be out like a light!

Lessen Anxiety

Did you know that anxiety impacts the limbic system (where emotions are stored) of the brain? Yep! A little list-making goes a long way and your mind will thank you in the long run. Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury of PositivePyschology.com explains, “By reducing the stress hormones and managing the autonomic nervous system functions, gratitude significantly reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety. At the neurochemical level, feelings of gratitude are associated with an increase in the neural modulation of the prefrontal cortex, the brain site responsible for managing negative emotions. As a result, people who keep a gratitude journal are more empathetic and positive minded by nature.”

Prioritize gratitude journaling and reflecting just as much as other healthy habits. Eating leafy greens, getting your steps in, drinking water — incorporate gratitude in this list of self-care staples. As you can see, the health benefits are vast, important and effect not only you, but all of the people in your life.

What mental health benefit does gratitude bring you? Let us know! Contact Kelly McGuire kmcguire@girlsontherun.org.
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