Gratitude Protects Against Depression

The science behind how gratitude may help us feel less down.

Posted Dec 11, 2020

Nathan Cowley/Pexels
Source: Nathan Cowley/Pexels

COVID may be impacting daily living, but gratitude can help fight back. Scientific research supports the finding that gratitude protects against depression. A couple of the common feelings among individuals facing depression include the following thoughts:

  • “I am bothered by things that usually don’t bother me.”
  • “I feel I could not shake off the blues even with the help from my family and friends.”

Multiple factors play a role in causing depression, including stress and lack of self-care. The research in the past several years has shown gratitude to be a protective factor. Below are three ways that gratitude helps protect against depression.

1. Gratitude buffers against feelings of inadequacy.

In an Italian study, researchers found that gratitude supports how we view ourselves. By reducing self-criticism and being more forgiving of ourselves, gratitude buffers against feelings of inadequacy. Researchers emphasize that gratitude “is connected to a less critical, less punishing, and more compassionate relationship with the self.” In turn, when frustrations and challenges ensue, gratitude keeps individuals from being too hard on themselves.

Depression involves negative views of the self, which can spiral into low self-esteem and even self-hate in severe forms. Gratitude’s ability to protect against a negative self-view is not only helpful for those facing depression or depressive symptoms but almost anyone who may face a challenging day or set of circumstances. In short, gratitude can be psychologically protective for all.

In the above Italian study, gratitude was measured via a questionnaire with examples describing intensity, frequency, span, and density facets of gratitude such as the following:

  • “I feel thankful for what I have received in life.” (example of the intensity facet)
  • “Long amounts of time can go by before I feel grateful to something or someone.” (example of the frequency facet)
  • “I sometimes feel grateful for the smallest things.” (example of the span facet)
  • “I am grateful to a wide variety of people.” (example of the intensity facet)

2. Gratitude supports peace of mind.

In a Chinese study, researchers concluded that gratitude may “counteract the symptoms of depression by enhancing a state of peace of mind and reducing ruminative thinking.” The study looked at a sample of roughly 500 Chinese university students. The results did not differ by gender; in other words, both males and females benefited equally from gratitude.

To add clarity, within Chinese culture, peace of mind has been defined as a harmonious state of happiness. Gratitude may play a positive role by enhancing the naturally satisfactory balance within the brain, thereby generating peace and lowering stressful thinking.

3. Gratitude protects against depression in chronically ill patients also.

In chronically ill populations facing arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), gratitude still protects against depression. A study in Health Psychology found that gratitude was associated with lower levels of depression in individuals facing either IBD or arthritis. Such findings support the notion that despite physical ailments, gratitude still uniquely strengthens the mind. 

Gratitude’s benefits include strengthening relationships, minimizing stress, strengthening empathy, serving as a gateway to more positive emotions, and also protecting against depression. The benefits start but do not necessarily end here. A routine gratitude practice can impart such benefits even if gratitude does not come naturally. Attempting to feel gratitude through a gratitude habit may take effort, particularly in the wake of a pandemic, but the rewards are ever worth the effort.