Dr Bierrenbach often quotes the Golden Rule to his patients, which states “do unto others, as you would have done unto you”! Practicing gratitude, kindness and positivity are great words to live up to. But what about taking the time to write what you are thankful for, could it make you feel better? Two studies suggest that it can. Expressing gratitude has been associated with increased well-being, decreased stress and feelings of depression and anxiety.
Gratitude practices are among a number of positive psychological interventions focused on prevention and wellness rather than illness. Other examples include interventions relating to creativity, mindfulness, or a building on personal strengths.
For example, one study found expressing gratitude can help address chronic occupational stress. Researchers compared groups of health care practitioners in a stressful work situation in a double-blind randomized controlled trial. They found that health care workers who kept gratitude diaries had reduced depressive symptoms and reduced perceived stress compared to groups that kept hassle diaries or no diaries. The study authors conclude that “taking stock of thankful events is an effective approach to reduce stress and depressive symptoms among health care practitioners.” 1
Gratitude writing can also be used along with psychotherapy. A 2016 randomized controlled trial involving almost 300 adults looked at using gratitude writing in addition to psychotherapy. 2 Study participants were assigned to one of three groups: psychotherapy only, psychotherapy plus expressive writing (participants wrote about their thoughts and feelings about stressful experiences), and psychotherapy plus gratitude writing (participants wrote letters expressing gratitude toward others”)
One week after the therapy/writing activities ended, people in the different groups did not show a difference in mental health levels. However, after four weeks, the gratitude group reported better mental health than the other groups and after 12 weeks the difference was even greater. People in the study were given the option to send their gratitude letter or not. While most people chose not to send the letters, the study found that people benefitted from the act of writing the gratitude letters regardless of whether they decided to send them or not.
- Cheng, ST, et al. Improving mental health in health care practitioners: randomized controlled trail of a gratitude intervention. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2015, 83(1):177-86.
- Wong, YJ, et al. Does gratitude writing improve the mental health of psychotherapy clients? Evidence from a randomized controlled trial. Psychotherapy Research. 2016, 3:1-11.