Seven Elements of Good Mental Health: 5. Be grateful – The Prospering Soul

Life shouldn’t just be about avoiding poor health, but also enjoying good health. Our psychological health is no different.

Before we take a look at poor mental health, let’s look at some of the ways that people can enjoy good mental health and wellbeing. This next series of posts will discuss seven elements that are Biblically and scientifically recognised as important to people living richer and more fulfilling lives.

These aren’t the only ways that a person can find fulfilment, nor are they sure-fire ways of preventing all mental health problems either. They’re not seven steps to enlightenment or happiness either.   But applying these principles can improve psychosocial wellbeing, and encourage good mental health.

5. Be grateful

As I was trolling through Facebook the other day, I came across this post by Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin: “Thanked an airport security worker, he said I was the first to say #ThankYou in three years. Shocked! Saying thank you should be second nature …”

Richard Branson Thank You

Perhaps the security worker was exaggerating for the billionaire, or perhaps everybody hates airport security at the airport where he works. At any rate, three years is a long time to go without someone saying thanks.

As Sir Richard said, “Saying thank you should be second nature …”. Saying thanks is a small part of the much larger psychology of gratitude, which is “part of a wider life orientation towards noticing and appreciating the positive in the world” [1]. In fact, there are several components to the overall orientation of gratitude, including “(1) individual differences in the experience of grateful affect, (2) appreciation of other people, (3) a focus on what the person has, (4) feelings of awe when encountering beauty, (4) behaviors to express gratitude, (5) focusing on the positive in the present moment, (6) appreciation rising from understanding life is short, (7) a focus on the positive in the present moment, and (8) positive social comparisons.” [1]

The research suggests that people who are naturally grateful tend to be less angry and hostile, less depressed, less emotionally vulnerable, and experienced positive emotions more frequently. Gratitude also correlated with traits like positive social functioning, emotional warmth, gregariousness, activity seeking, trust, altruism, and tender-mindedness. Grateful people also had higher openness to their feeling, ideas, and values, and greater competence, dutifulness, and achievement striving.

However, these effects may be simply an association of gratitude with other personality traits. In other words, people who are naturally optimistic or conscientious are also more likely to be thankful, rather than the thankfulness causing someone to be more optimistic or conscientious. There are a few studies that show gratitude interventions improving self-worth, body image, and anxiety, although the evidence is that while gratitude was better than doing nothing, it was equal to, not superior to, currently accepted psychological interventions.

Even though gratitude may not be better than standard psychological treatments, it’s better than being ungrateful.  It’s also something that the Bible exhorts us to do (“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus, concerning you.” – 1 Thess 5:18).  And let’s face it, it’s pretty easy to do.

The best studied gratitude intervention is a gratitude diary – writing something down every day that you are thankful for [1]. It doesn’t have to be long. A single sentence or phrase is good enough. Not that it has to be written if that’s not your thing. I had a friend who was determined to do a gratitude journal, but she also has a love and a knack for photography. So, she decided to take a photo a day of something that she was grateful for, and post it on Facebook. She had her moments where she doubted herself, struggled to find a subject of her gratitude, or struggled to find something unique, especially after day 300, but the end result was amazing. She grew in her gratitude and her photographic skill, and I often found myself blessed by her beautiful images and insights.

So, be thankful and express it in your own unique way.

References

[1]        Wood AM, Froh JJ, Geraghty AW. Gratitude and well-being: a review and theoretical integration. Clinical psychology review 2010 Nov;30(7):890-905.

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