The Benefits of Gratitude for Mental Health (& 3 Gratitude Exercises)
“Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, focus on all the great things you already have in your life.”
You’ve probably heard about gratitude a hundred times, and it can start to get annoying.
It’s hard to focus on the good things in life when you’re dealing with unending stress at work, frustrating relationships, and anxious thoughts.
But finding a way to be thankful for the small things can train your brain to keep looking for the positives – and start to boost your mental health.
Here at KMA Therapy, we know you want to find ways to feel better in your life, and know why they’re working. For over 14 years, we’ve helped our clients learn independent strategies to boost their mental wellness and connected them with professional help when they needed extra support.
After reading this article, you’ll know how gratitude impacts mental health, the benefits of gratitude, and three gratitude exercises to try today.
How Does Gratitude Impact Mental Health?
Gratitude is more than just listing out things in your life that make you happy (although that can be a great place to start).
Practising gratitude can have real impacts on the way your brain processes your emotions. A 2008 study explored people’s brain activity when experiencing feelings of gratitude.
Scientists saw their brains’ reward pathways light up, boosting their serotonin (aka the happiness hormone.)
Even better, there’s no need to worry about whether you’re “doing gratitude the right way.” Even practising being grateful by thinking of good things in your life can boost your serotonin.
The Mental Health Benefits of Gratitude
Now that you know how gratitude impacts the brain, let’s explore the benefits.
Practising gratitude can:
- Lower your risk of major depression and anxiety
- Lower your risk of alcohol and drug use
- Improve your relationships
- Help you to sleep better
- Reduce your stress
If these benefits have convinced you to at least give gratitude a try, check out these four helpful exercises to get started.
3 Gratitude Exercises to Improve Your Mental Health
These exercises are a great way to start your gratitude journey and help you reap the benefits of a grateful mind.
Remember, even trying to practise gratitude is advantageous for your well-being – so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do these exercises perfectly.
1. The “Three Good Things” Exercise
Created by positive psychologist Martin Seligman, the Three Good Things method involves just what you’d expect.
Every night, write down:
- Three good things that happened during the day
- Why they were good, or why you enjoyed them
This exercise works by helping you give as much attention to your positive thoughts as you do to your negative thoughts, increasing your happiness.
2. Count Blessings, Not Sheep
Happiness researcher Emma Seppälä has spoken about the benefits of practising gratitude right before bed, encouraging people to “count blessings, not sheep.”
This exercise involves thinking about the positive things you experienced during the day as you fall asleep.
If you usually imagine sheep jumping over a fence, or you replay the day’s stressful events as you shut your eyes to sleep, try to replace these thoughts with images of things you’re grateful for.
A study done in 2009 found that this practice not only makes you feel happier but improves your sleep quality.
3. Be Your Own Biggest Fan
Your self-talk, which is how you speak to and about yourself, significantly impacts your mental health.
Making sure you’re speaking to yourself kindly has a ton of benefits already, but combining it with a gratitude focus can send these benefits to the next level.
To do this exercise, sit in front of the mirror and begin saying nice things about yourself.
It’s okay if this feels awkward at first – remember, even trying these exercises holds many benefits.
It’s best to think of specific things you like about yourself, but here are a few to get you started:
- “I am grateful for everything my body can do.”
- “I am grateful for my kindness and my compassion.”
- “I am grateful for the good things in the life I’ve created for myself.”
Along with all the benefits of gratitude, these self-talk exercises can help you improve your self-esteem and boost your motivation.
Next Steps for Boosting Your Mental Health
After reading this article, you now understand the benefits of gratitude, how gratitude impacts your brain, and three gratitude exercises to try at home.
Practising gratitude is a great way to boost your mental health, but sometimes we all need extra support.
Here at KMA Therapy, we’re passionate about helping you live your best life and equipping you with the tools you need to succeed.
We’ve guided our community members to reach their goals for over 14 years, and we’re always here if you ever need support.
Book an appointment today, or connect with our team to learn more.
If you’re not yet ready to book an appointment, check out these resources to learn more: