November 23, 2021 by Amanda Reill
November is a month many of us take on personal challenges related to gratitude. Whether it’s 30 days of thankfulness, teaching our children to be thankful, or a renewed interest in charitable giving, almost all of us are looking for ways to bathe our lives in more gratitude.
But do we know just how gratitude can calibrate our mental health?
“Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: It must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.” - William Faulkner, American author
One study on gratitude and mental health demonstrated that it can actually change your brain, and make you into a happier, healthier version of yourself. The researchers chose 300 adults (primarily college students) who were experiencing mental health concerns. They asked one-third of them to write weekly letters of gratitude to different people in their lives. Another third was asked to write about their negative experiences, and the remaining third served as a control group.
The gratitude group had remarkably better mental health markers up to twelve weeks after the letters had concluded. It wasn’t just in the middle of the exercise that these participants felt more grateful — even three months afterward, this positivity continued to impact their brains.
Having your client perform this same exercise will likely be beneficial no matter their goals, but it’s crucial for those who tend toward a negative outlook. If your client doesn’t feel up for writing letters, experts also recommend keeping a gratitude journal to bolster gratitude and wellbeing.
“When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out, and the tide of love rushes in.” - Kristin Armstrong, Olympic athlete
Jim Smith, the “Executive Happiness Coach,” sets these conditions for adopting a habit of gratitude that’s likely to stick:
According to Smith, bringing focus to what we are grateful for regularly opens our minds to the opportunities awaiting us. This attitude of gratitude serves as a building block for strong relationships and it allows us to feel a strong sense of contentment in our present moments.
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” - Voltaire
Gratitude changes our mindset away from jealousy and envy - two states of mind that tend to erode our self-worth and contentment. A discontent spirit is one constantly scanning the world, searching for what they don’t have. It’s nearly impossible to be happy when you’re operating from a perspective of discontent.
When we learn to appreciate the value in others and be inspired by who they are and what they’ve accomplished, the whole world wins. Your ability to be great is not threatened by someone else being great. We can be glad that their greatness exists in the world and have a greater vision for our own success, rather than feel that ours is now compromised.
All things are possible when you see life as a journey and approach it from a growth mindset. There is no failure. Everything is simply a step toward what’s next - both the good and the bad.
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” - GK Chesterton
Gratitude is active, not passive. It’s not just being glad; it’s noticing that you’re glad. And doing so, Chesterton says, doubles your happiness. A gratitude practice of “noticing” takes intention, which is why it’s so critical to spend at least one season of life carving out regular time for this practice. You can revisit it when you’re in a rut, but it will become a brain pathway that’s likely to stick if you do it consistently.
“What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” - Research professor and author Brene Brown
Gratitude changes our actions. It causes us to behave in ways that are more compassionate toward others. It helps us to be better listeners, and it makes us more humble people. We begin to recognize that the things we enjoy in this life are gifts rather than entitlements.
As we focus on gratitude this month, make sure your clients don’t forget to thank themselves. Each of us is immeasurably strong and has overcome significant barriers to arrive where we are today. And that is something worthy of giving thanks.