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How Gratitude Combats Depression

Count your gains instead of your losses.

It’s holiday time.

When many of us will gather with friends and family. Where gratitude and appreciation take up residence in our hearts.

Stopping to give seasonal thanks is a wonderful thing, but what’s even better is practicing gratitude year-round. In fact, studies show that consistent positive interactions, particularly ones that involve gratitude, increase happiness and decrease levels of depression.

So, what are the gratitude techniques research says help alleviate depression?

Here are seven that will not only deck your halls, but offer you an antidote to depressive symptoms all year long.

1. Gratitude visit. Deliver a letter of gratitude in writing or email to a person you are grateful to, but have not thanked appropriately.

2. Three good things. Write down three things that had gone well for you this week and an explanation of why those things happened.

3. Using signature strengths in a new way. Use one of your best strengths in a new way every week.

4. Three funny things. Write down three funny things you experienced or did this week—and an explanation of why those things happened.

5. Counting kindness. Count and report the acts of kindness you offer every day. Or the ones you receive every day.

6. Gift of time. Offer at least three ‘‘gifts of time’’ by contacting/meeting three persons about whom you care about each week.

7. One door closes, another door opens. Write about a moment in your life this week when a negative event led to unforeseen positive consequences.

Science Behind Gratitude

So, why do these gratitude experiences boost happiness and alleviate depression? Scientists say that these techniques shift our thinking from negative outcomes to positive ones, elicit a surge of feel-good hormones like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, and build enduring personal connections.

The insight and reflection of counting these moments is what makes the practice of gratitude so powerful. But the key to combating depression is making these positive experiences part of the fabric of your life.

You don’t have to do all of these techniques. Do some. Or one. Just get out there and be grateful.


Gander-Rene, F.; Proyer, T.; Ruch, W. & Wyss, T. (2012) Strength-based positive interventions: Further evidence for their potential in enhancing well-being and alleviating depression. Journal of Happiness Studies, DOI 10.1007/s10902-012-9380-0 accessed online 11/19/2012

Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press.

Sin, N. L., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2009). Enhancing well-being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions: A practice-friendly meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65(5), 467–487.

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