By Melissa Fuson, Vitals contributor
Research shows that regularly expressing gratitude can lessen anxiety and depression—even during the most difficult of times. It can also help people feel happier, live healthier lives and boost feelings of optimism.
Dr. Leif Hass is a hospitalist at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center and an adviser for U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center on healthcare issues. He has written extensively about patient and provider well-being and the role of gratitude in health and healthcare.
“It’s easy to focus on everything going wrong, but stepping outside of our own narratives can allow us to see the beauty and privilege in bearing witness to our patients’ important life moments,” he says.
Giving thanks can even change our brains. A study from 2008 found that gratitude boosts neurotransmitter serotonin and activates the brain stem to produce dopamine.
As a licensed practitioner for Sutter Health’s Employee Assistance Program, Anna Morgado helps employees through personal and work-related challenges.
“As humans, our brains default to look for danger and for the bad. That’s helpful for survival but isn’t healthy. So, we must be intentional in looking for the good in our lives,” she says.
Morgado is careful to note that incorporating a regular practice of gratitude doesn’t negate your struggles. In fact, she advises using “and” statements when you’re struggling: “I am overwhelmed with work, and I enjoy my co-workers,” for example.
“This isn’t toxic positivity. We’re not denying the truth,” she says. “It’s about recognizing and being intentional about integrating the good stuff in your life. It can help us from going down the rabbit hole of depression and sadness –and even a couple minutes each day can help.”
Tips for living a more grateful life:
- Keep a Gratitude Journal. Write about things you enjoy each day.
- Remind yourself about how far you’ve come. Remember past struggles you’ve successfully overcome.
- Volunteer to help others. Small acts of kindness can be impactful for the giver and the receiver.