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Easy Gratitude for Improved Mood: Interview With an Expert

Benefits of gratitude in challenging times and beyond.

“If we want to be happy, gratitude is important. If we want to have a sense of well-being, gratitude is indeed important.” — Prof. Paul Mills, Chief of Behavioral Medicine, U.C. San Diego.

WAYHOME Studio/Shutterstock
Source: WAYHOME Studio/Shutterstock

The holidays are a time when we’re supposed to feel grateful, right? But what happens when you don’t feel so grateful? You’re likely concerned about COVID-19 right now. Perhaps you’re altering your holiday plans due to the pandemic and may not see as many loved ones. It’s a challenging time, there’s no question about it. However, there’s a technique you can employ to feel a bit better even though you might not feel so grateful this year. Paradoxically enough, it’s gratitude and it’s quite easy to do.

Think gratitude is just obligatory drudgery for the holidays — a one-off meaningless parroting of the basic, “I have food on my plate and a roof over my head?" Think again.

What if saying your gratitudes instead were a tool that might actually help improve your mood? Studies show promise in demonstrating exactly that scenario. Simple, with essentially no training needed to potentially feel better.

Intrigued? Thought so.

“We saw significant reductions in depression (from study participants practicing gratitude)." — Prof. Paul Mills

In fact, I was fortunate to interview an expert on gratitude, Prof. Paul Mills, Chief of Behavioral Medicine at the University of California, San Diego in the following video regarding gratitude. Prof. Mills’ studies on gratitude revealed that practicing gratitude has significant positive effects on mood and well-being.

“On the one hand, we can understand gratitude as… a faculty of the soul that endows us with the gifts of meaning and well-being. On the other hand, we can understand gratitude as a profound love... When we experience gratitude, we participate in the manifestation of creation… essentially the ongoing movement of love, of which is our essential identity.” — Prof. Paul Mills on Gratitude

Even a brief gratitude intervention of two weeks may increase feelings of well-being. In fact, gratitude interventions have been found to improve depressed mood, and individuals with more gratitude-related and mindfulness-related personality traits enjoy a greater sense of psychological well-being. This simple technique may lift your mood and assist you in appreciating your life, even the small aspects of it. In fact, it may improve physical health and reduce inflammation, as was discovered in this study on heart failure patients.

“Inflammatory biomarkers (of study participants practicing gratitude) went down 24%, which was unexpected and frankly, really remarkable.” — Prof. Paul Mills

Gratitude combined with spirituality may have additional positive well-being effects. Additionally, one’s perceived stress may have an impact on the effects of gratitude, as well.

So, how do I practice gratitude?

Say three gratitudes each day for at least seven consecutive days, such as: “I am grateful for_____,” “I am grateful for_____” and “I am grateful for___”. (Two weeks of gratitudes may be even better.)

At least two must be unique each time. Here are a few examples. They can be small gratitudes, such as “I am grateful for tonight’s beautiful sunset” or “I am grateful for getting a good night’s sleep last night” or larger gratitudes such as, “I am grateful for having a loving spouse” or “I am grateful for my pet who loves me even when I’m having a bad day.”

Hint: Don’t cheat yourself by writing it all in one sentence and saying, “I am grateful for ___, ___, and ___.”

Source: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

You may find that saying these three simple sentences lifts your mood to the point that you decide to continue this exercise. In fact, it was discovered that a two-week gratitude intervention actually increased participants’ sense of well-being, sleep quality, and optimism while decreasing blood pressure. Perhaps you decide to say a few gratitudes when you’re feeling blue to lift your mood and may even find a slight improvement in your sleep (especially if the gratitude exercise is conducted just before bedtime).

When I have assigned this exercise in my college classes, invariably students report back that they felt an increased feeling of well-being after performing the assignment. In fact, some students have told me that they continue this exercise daily due to the lifting effect it has on their mood.

So give it a try! You might be grateful you did.

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