Many of us go through life facing an array of challenges which occasionally lead to setbacks, discouragement, and outright depression. Culture has sought to mitigate the challenges of depression through an array of means, including counseling and depression medications. Recently, research has begun to challenge a long-held belief that depression relates to an imbalance of serotonin in the brain, which calls into question the effectiveness of SSRI medications (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors). This research pointed to the most significant culprit in depression as stressful life events and counseling continues to be a robust treatment. The debate about depression, its causes, and most effective treatments will continue among academics.
In the meantime, there is a secret weapon that can help in any situation, gratitude. In an age in which people are seeking “life hacks” for their health, this is truly one of the most natural preventative solutions for depression and can lead to many positive results if practiced consistently. Peer-reviewed research has demonstrated that written gratitude lists have been found to benefit people’s mental health and well-being, as well as to provide feelings of a more satisfied life and a boost in self-esteem.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is defined as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Gratitude is being thankful for what you have. Gratitude is seeing the glass half-full, not half-empty. It is seeking in all situations to take stock of the good in ourselves, our situations, and in other people. It has been said that the worst things in life are not what happens to us, it is what we think about what happens to us that harms us the most. Attitude is everything. We each get to choose our narrative about every situation. Our narrative, or interpretation of events, correlates directly with our mood and sense of well-being. Gratitude is strong leverage on the fulcrum of our sense of well-being and moves our attitudes in positive directions. Gratitude sees and appreciates the opportunities in a given day, even if undetectable to the skeptic. Whether based on faith in God to be present in all circumstances, or another strong foundation, people who exercise gratitude on a consistent basis experience peace and hope.
How Can I Practice a Mindset of Gratitude?
Like anything in life, including exercise, gratitude takes practice. It involves a commitment to seeing things through this lens even when challenging circumstances seem daunting. In some of my health psychology work, I have seen patients with the exact same diagnosis who take a completely different approach in their attitude. Some despair and complain unceasingly. Others, apply gratitude throughout the process of healing or managing the illness. They literally encourage many around them and amaze friends and family who would completely understand if they dove into a pool of despair. We can practice choosing the route of gratitude and it can become a habit in itself. Let me suggest five disciplines that relate directly to this practice of gratitude which can enhance this type of thinking in your life.
- Make a Daily Gratitude List: Make a literal list in the morning or in the evening before you go to bed of all the things that you are grateful for during the day. This simple exercise can begin to aim your perspective in the right direction in regard to a gratitude narrative.
- Turn The Table on a Difficult Situation: Take specific situations that don’t seem to be “going your way,” even small ones, and practice feeling gratitude. When you’re in the grocery line and somebody has 15 coupons four people ahead of you, find an angle of gratitude. Make it a game and see if you can turn toward gratitude in multiple situations.
- Thank Others: Express your appreciation to other people for who they are and the things they do to enhance your life. Expressing this gratitude to other people is an instantaneous shot in the arm toward a good attitude. You and others around you will appreciate this approach. Some believe that praising others somehow diminishes their value. In fact, it does the opposite and builds you up and the person that you’re expressing thanksgiving to.
- Forgive Others: When other people disappoint you, or disrespect you, turn the tables on this and squelch resentment by forgiving them. Yes, stand up for yourself appropriately as you need but don’t allow resentment to give that person free rent in your mind.
- Pour Positivity into Your Mind: Seek to discipline yourself to take in positive messages during your day through social interactions and media use. Talk with positive people. Listen to YouTube videos, talks, sermons, and podcasts which contribute to a positive attitude and further gratitude about your life and circumstances. Some media forms seek to provoke fear and anger to keep your attention. Choose wisely in what messages go into your mind because that is exactly what will come forth in your attitudes.
In short, Gratitude is a choice and a habit of mind that you can improve. Recognize the freedom to choose this approach to positively influence your thinking and attitudes. This can be a secret weapon in maintaining a good outlook and warding off negativity and depression.