A Powerful Anti-Depressant: Gratitude
The other night I was at dinner with a group of girlfriends when the discussion turned to the recent deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, which had shaken many of us to our core.
Both of these much admired and respected people were around our age, had accomplished everything most of us have ever dreamed of, and felt like they could have been one of our friends (in an ideal world, of course). Which made it all the more unsettling.
Several, if not all of us, have suffered from depression at some time in our lives. A study by the CDC found that women ages 40 to 59 have the highest rate of depression of any age or gender in the United States. Overall, the highest lifetime risk of depression was found among baby boomers aged 45 to 64.
Which is why we must be more pro-active than ever to reach out, speak out, listen, encourage each other to seek help and help them do so if necessary. Eight ways to support a struggling friend.
Lastly, one of my dear friends offered up this simple yet powerful therapy that she practices regularly: Gratitude.
“When I was going through a period of depression, a friend handed me a journal and told me to write down a few things I was grateful for everyday. It really helped lift me out of it,” she said.
"Gratitude is good medicine," according to Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis and founding editor in chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology. According to a 2017 LA Times article, studies showed that practicing gratitude has these 10 life-affirming benefits:
1. Gratitude empowers you
"If we're so depressed about what's going on in the world that we can't act, what does that serve? So part of what we're trying to do is keep people connected to gratefulness as a source of activism," says Kristi Nelson, executive director of gratefulness.org, which describes itself as an online sanctuary dedicated to fostering grateful living. "It's really powerful to steep ourselves in what we're grateful for and then act to defend, protect and advance that in the world."
2. Helps fend off depression
Practicing gratitude is linked to more resilience and optimism, Emmons says, recalling one study that found that counting blessings and "gratitude letter writing" reduced the risk of depression in patients by 41% over six months.
3. Helps fight addiction
"There's a lot of belief that addictions come out of spiritual thirst," says Nelson, citing a principle of 12-step programs. Gratitude can help you positively reframe not just the present but the past and future. "We have seen people have tremendous breakthroughs in valuing their lives and each other and life itself as a result of focusing on what they have to feel grateful for versus what's missing in their lives."
4. Helps you sleep better
Instead of counting sheep, try counting your blessings. "There are about six good studies now showing that gratitude facilitates better sleep," Emmons says. Almost every benchmark of good sleep — including duration of sleep and the time it takes to fall asleep — is improved by gratitude.
5. Boosts self-control
"Gratitude makes people more patient," says Jeffrey Froh, an associate professor at Hofstra University, referencing the ability to delay gratification. "Future rewards are generally less attractive, but if you're in a grateful mood you're more able to wait. If you're sad or depressed you just want to feel better in the moment, so you eat that whole cheesecake" instead of skipping dessert in favor of your weight-loss goals.
6. Combats the Facebook blues
"In a consumer culture, we're driven to see what we don't have, and Facebook, social media, is only making it worse," Nelson says. "It can feel like we're all living in some kind of substandard world, that something should be different. That's a form of suffering as opposed to seeing [that life itself is] a gift."
7. Fosters a sense of community
"The thread of life can unravel very quickly, so we need memories of how we've been supported and sustained by other people," Emmons says. For instance, if a hospital took good care of your spouse, you may be motivated to donate money to help build a new cancer wing. "So much of life is about giving, receiving, repaying benefits; that's why gratitude is so foundational and fundamental to human beings and to social life. … It's a cycle of reciprocity."
8. Makes you a better spouse
Rather than focusing on "negative attributions" or what you don't like about your mate, "Focus on what your partner is good at," Emmons says. With any luck, that praise and affirmation might inspire him or her to improve other aspects of the relationship.
9. Makes you a better boss and manager
Managers who express gratitude have more productive employees. In turn, "Grateful employees are better employees. They're more engaged … more efficient," Emmons says.
10. Increases life satisfaction for kids
"The way you couch it to kids is: Be on the hunt for the good," Froh says. "Kids who are grateful have better relationships growing up, increased happiness and life satisfaction, more emotional and social support, get higher grades, do better in school, are less envious and less materialistic."
Want to make it a good day? Watch this gorgeous, uplifting video "Gratitude" by director Louie Schwartzberg and Benedictine monk, David Stendahl Rast.
If you or someone you care about is struggling and experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone who can help. You can also chat with a counselor online here. All services are free and available 24/7.
Photo by Jessica Felicio unsplash.com