The Importance of Gratitude and Giving Back for Mental Health

Gratitude is one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal because it helps remind us of the good things that are already in our lives.
The Importance of Gratitude and Giving Back for Mental Health
The Mental Health Benefits of Gratitude. Image/Shutterstock

Most people are looking for ways to improve their mental health. Whether you’re someone who struggles regularly with depression or you’re having a particularly hard time after a recent challenge, you know that when your mental health is off, it can feel overwhelming.

Fortunately, there is a range of things you can do to address mental health issues and make them better. But two things that seem to work no matter the specific situation you’re in is: gratitude and giving back.

Both the act of gratitude and various acts of “giving back” (to the community, to friends, to family, etc.) have been scientifically proven to help with mental health issues such as depression, chronic anxiety, and even more severe emotional conditions. If you’re looking for ways to improve your own mental health, give them a try.

We’ve provided a few ideas to get you started below.

3 Ways to Practice Gratitude

1. Begin a gratitude journal.
A gratitude journal is simply a notebook or diary where you keep a running list of things you’re thankful for.

It’s best to choose a designated time in your day to write in your gratitude journal. For many people, this is first thing in the morning. Simply take a few minutes while you’re drinking your morning coffee to write down something you’re grateful for.

If this is too much of a challenge because you haven’t even started your day yet, simply keep your gratitude journal with you at all times (in your purse or desk, for example). Whenever you run into something to be thankful for, take it out and jot that thing down. Later, if you’re feeling low throughout the week, take a look at your gratitude journal and realize how much you truly have to be thankful for.

2. Learn to “marry your problems.”
Everyone has problems, and everyone has stress. The best way to deal with any type of problem or stressor is to first realize that it’s real and accept it for what it is.

This doesn’t mean that you blindly accept it and don’t try to fix it. It simply means that you “marry the problems you have.” In other words, instead of wishing them away, you realize that your worries could always be far greater, and conditions could be much worse.

Whatever your problems are, learn to appreciate them because they’re yours. Then, change what you can change, and accept what you cannot.

3. Name the things you’re grateful for as you fall asleep each night.
If you have trouble sleeping, these ones are for you.

Once you’ve turned off your light and snuggled into your pillow tonight, close your eyes, and begin to think about your day. Even if you had the crummiest day in the world, you can surely think of at least a few things to be grateful for.

They might be as small as not having to run to catch the bus on your way to work or as big and joyous as the receipt of a package in the mail from a friend. Whatever your list comprises, try to make it as long as possible, and include absolutely everything. You will find that you drift off to sleep in a blissful reverie about what an actually good day you had.

2 Ways to Give Back

1. Think of a friend or family member in need, and do something for them.

Everyone has someone in their life that they could help. Maybe it’s a neighbor with a spouse who is chronically ill. Maybe it’s a new coworker who’s having a hard time getting accustomed to their new job.

Find someone in your life you can lend a hand to. For your neighbor, you might make them a few meals to keep in the freezer. For your co-worker, you might take them aside and give them a few pieces of advice that you wish you would’ve known when you were new on the job.

2. Start donating blood.
Blood banks always need blood, and it’s something that nearly everyone can offer. Your body will reproduce any blood it loses through donation, which makes blood donation to a bank one of the most amazing gifts you can give. It doesn’t cost you anything, but it can save many lives.

If you’re nervous about giving blood for the first time, talk to someone who has given it before. It’s not as scary as it may seem. Eating a meal and drinking plenty of water beforehand will help reduce any possible post-discomfort — as can going with a friend or relative.

Remember: There’s no “optimal” level of gratitude or “ideal” amount of giving back. Any amount of either of these acts will help. In the end, however, you may find that you enjoy being grateful and helping others so much, you continue to do these things, even when you’re not actively struggling with your own mental health challenges.

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Lauren Ann, MS

Lauren has dual graduate degrees in Clinical Psychotherapy and Nutrition, espousing an integrative approach to optimizing overall healt

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