The Science of Gratitude: 5 Easy Practices for November

The Science of Gratitude: 5 Easy Practices for November

Susan K. Gurley, Executive Director

Susan K. Gurley, Executive Director

Susan Gurley is the Executive Director of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), a non-profit international mental health association. She is a lawyer and advocate with 25 years of leadership experience working in the mental health and access to justice fields, international development and legal reform, and higher education administration.

The Science of Gratitude: 5 Easy Practices for November

The Science of Gratitude: Five Easy Practices for November

The Month of November Carries Different Meaning for Different People 

As soon as Halloween is over, here come those holiday commercials of the seemingly perfect family smiling around a meticulously prepared dinner; cozy blankets and steaming mugs of cocoa; and tossing snow while everyone smiles. And then there are all of those social media posts about what everyone is thankful for!

While the pressure of the month of November might cause anxiety, there actually might be something to those outpourings of gratitude. Science supports how consciously practicing gratitude can help you feel better, attain stronger mental health outcomes, and even curb anxiety.

Gratitude at the Center of November

For us at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), we want to embrace gratitude this month. Try these practices during your calmest days, or when you may feel the anxiety that may come with large gatherings, personal conversations, or during any moments of loneliness. Whether overwhelmed or underwhelmed by November’s happenings, the entire month is indeed a wonderful reminder for us to reflect, learn, and practice gratitude.

As the president of ADAA, Luana Marques,Ph.D., says, “For me, practicing gratitude is more than just being thankful. It’s an act of cultivating peace within myself, a moment of reflection, and an opportunity to see the light in all the life around me.” And science agrees with her: gratitude boosts your mental health and can help anxiety and depression. Gratitude comes to life once you learn about its full potential, and then, by practicing it.

What Does Science Say About Gratitude?

Scientific research supports a connection between gratitude, mindfulness, and mental health. For instance, psychologists Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough studied gratitude and found that people who wrote about the things that they were grateful for are people who are more optimistic and who feel better about their lives. Researchers from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania observed that managers who thank their workers end up helping the workers feel motivated to work harder. ADAA Past President Karen Cassiday, PhD, ACT confirms that over "fifteen thousand studies have proved the power” of gratitude in improving "mental and physical health." In short, gratitude can lead to better overall health.

Here are Five Ways You Can Practice Gratitude for Better Mental Health and to Help Alleviate Anxiety or Depression

  1. Make and maintain a thoughtful journal of gratitude. By thoughtfully and consistently journaling what you are grateful for, you will allow yourself a steady practice of gratitude. There are many options for gratitude journals including DIY journals as well as ADAA Ally Pockitudes, a pocket-sized mindfulness and gratitude journal to inspire “self-healing.” As founder Frederick Terral said, “the key is to let this tiny act become a habit, a habit to be grateful and choose happiness.” Pockitudes donates a portion of their proceeds to support ADAA , and for this we are most grateful!
  2. Write yourself a "gratitude list." Before you go to bed each night, ask yourself: “what three things am I grateful for?” Write them down. Do this every night, or as close to nightly as possible. Perhaps you feel simple gratitude toward a delicious meal you ate or gratitude towards an act of compassion from a friend or loved one. According to scientific research published in peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of Research in Personality and Psychological Inquiry, gratitude helps us cultivate a positive outlook, brings attention to positive details, and fosters self-acceptance. Parents can also ask their children to list three things daily that they are grateful for, or to develop a gratitude journal.
  3. Spread gratitude: write a gratitude note to others. Perhaps you feel grateful toward the person who makes your coffee at your local café. Perhaps you feel gratitude for your child’s art teacher. Let them know specifically how much they brighten your day. Write them a note or just pull them aside and speak with them, sharing in a few sentences how appreciative you feel. Research shows that gratitude has a “ripple effect:” the recipient of gratitude is more likely to help others. Is there a group or organization that has helped you overcome something, like ADAA? Consider honoring them with a monetary gift on Giving Tuesday. 
  4. Practice gratitude-based meditations. Meditation is a powerful tool for overall wellness and improved mental health and there are meditations that specifically focus on uplifting gratitude. “Gratitude contemplation” is a way to cultivate gratitude through these gratitude-based meditations. According to research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, gratitude-based meditations lead to an immediate improvement in mood, even after five minutes of practice. Many mediation apps also provide guided exercises that specifically focus you on gratitude.
  5. Practice gratitude with the “bigger picture” in mind. According to ADAA member Dr. Richa Bhatia, MD, gratitude-based interventions can be helpful in anxiety alleviation. Writing down things that you are grateful for, particularly during uncertain times like the pandemic, allows you to realize gratitude in a way that offers you a “bigger picture perspective.” By illuminating your gratitude around the things that you care about, your attention shifts to the wider lens of things that matter, instead of being bogged down by small issues that don’t actually mean much. 

Start these Five Gratitude Methods in November

While we might have a fixed image of holiday season perfection in many of our minds, the most important part of November is not keeping up appearances, but it’s the practice of gratitude. Your mental health, physical health, and well-being are vital. ADAA has a diverse collection of resources and articles around gratitude, including personal stories of gratitude.

Questions for you to Answer in the Comments Below

  1. Does November prompt you to feel grateful? 
  2. What Is your preferred method of carrying out gratitude?
  3. What are one to three events that happened in the last week that made you feel grateful?

Susan K. Gurley, Executive Director

Susan K. Gurley, Executive Director

Susan Gurley is the Executive Director of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), a non-profit international mental health association. She is a lawyer and advocate with 25 years of leadership experience working in the mental health and access to justice fields, international development and legal reform, and higher education administration.

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