Five ways to get out of that funk and onto better things
When parsing through your furniture with your soon-to-be-ex, mustering gratitude is probably not your first instinct. But a growing body of research shows that acknowledging what you have (rather than focusing on what you've lost) may be your best defense against depression, anxiety and the harmful effects of stress.
A recent article in The Journal of Happiness Studies (yes, that's a scientific periodical) reported that feeling grateful has broad positive effects on people, including increased subjective well-being, lowered negative states such as depression, social anxiety, and lowered stress and improved sleep quality."Grateful thoughts before falling asleep were associated with higher subjective quality of sleep and with better functioning the following day," the report stated. "Similarly, research suggests that feelings of gratitude are associated with other positive outcomes such as emotional and social functioning. These include positive emotions, warmth, altruism, gregariousness, and trust."
The practice of gratitude may even diminish the effects of negative events or experiences. In a 2006 study, Vietnam war veterans who had a general disposition of gratitude were less likely to experience PTSD compared to veterans with lower levels of dispositional gratitude. Moreover, regardless of PTSD status, daily gratitude was positively related to measures of well-being such as daily self-esteem and positive affect.
Likewise, participants in a 2014 gratitude study were asked to record their daily experiences in a journal. Half were also required to list things for which they were grateful. At the end of the study, researchers found that subjects who counted their blessings reacted less strongly to stressful events they experienced.
The effects of gratitude are thought to have lasting effects as well. Researchers believe that "recalling grateful moments may replenish resources that can then be used to adapt to or to overcome stress."
There are many ways to make gratitude a part of your daily life and enjoy the immediate and lasting benefits. Here are five practices to try when life becomes stressful.
- Create A List. Spend five minutes every day listing positive aspects of your life. Take nothing for granted! The sun is shining. (Or there is much-needed rain.) You have hot water in the shower. Your car started. You have a job. Your children are healthy.
- Say Thanks. Make a point to acknowledge all the people who help you throughout the day. Show your appreciation and take note of all the people in your life who support you.
- Don't Just Say Grace. When sitting down to eat -- even on the go -- take a moment to appreciate all the people who contributed to the food you consume. Acknowledge the many farmers, truck drivers, butchers, bakers, factory workers, cooks, servers and clerks who were involved in the process.
- Write A Note. Having a hard time finding something to be grateful for in your current situation? No problem. A recent study showed that writing a thank you note to someone who helped you in the past but was never properly acknowledged can reduce feelings of depression.
- Don't Count Sheep. The classic Bing Crosby song got it right. Counting your blessings instead of sheep can help ease you into slumber, especially when negative thoughts come calling late at night. Keep your gratitude list (see #1) and a pen on the bedside table so if you awaken feeling anxious you can be reminded of all the positive things in your life. Add to the list to send fearful thoughts packing as you drift off to sleep.