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The Power of Gratitude: How Being Grateful Improves Mental Health

By Nicole Sell  •   February 20, 2023
•    Medically Reviewed By Dr. Christine Bishara, MD - Apr 17, 2023

Photo Credit: by Gabrielle Henderson, Unsplash.com
Photo Credit: by Gabrielle Henderson, Unsplash.com

Having a feeling of gratitude can be one of the most life-affirming and transformative experiences, but did you know it can also improve your mental health? From boosting happiness and decreasing depression to improving physical health and reducing stress hormones, recent research suggests that consistent gratitude practice can significantly affect our emotional and physical well-being. Whether through expressing thanks for the blessings in your life or simply writing down things you're grateful for, this powerful emotion can provide us with a means to take control of our mental health. Read on as we explore the remarkable power of gratitude and how it can lead to improved mental health.

Understanding Gratitude

At its basic level, gratitude is an appreciation or thankfulness for something. It can be expressed in various forms, from saying "thank you" to a kind gesture to reflecting on all the good things we have in our lives. Expressing gratitude helps us value what we have and gives us a sense of connection and belonging.

Gratitude encourages us to think positively, shift our perspective from lack to abundance, and experience joy despite life's challenges. It can also help to counter negative emotions such as anger, envy, and regret. Studies have shown that gratitude can lead to increased feelings of self-worth and resilience, which are essential for mental well-being.

The Neurochemistry of Gratitude

Have you ever stopped to wonder why gratitude makes us feel so good? It turns out that the feeling of gratitude is rooted in our brain chemistry. Through research, scientists have discovered that gratitude can directly affect our physical and mental health by activating certain brain areas and releasing specific neurotransmitters.

Neurochemically, gratitude increases the production of two neurotransmitters in the brain -- dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure, motivation, reward-seeking behavior, and general well-being. Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, social interaction and sleep patterns.

Popular anti-depressant medications such as Lexapro, Prozac, and Celexa work by inhibiting serotonin re-uptake, meaning it helps keep more serotonin active in the brain, which alleviates symptoms of depression and improves mood over time. However, when we express gratitude, these two neurotransmitters are released in higher amounts than normal, leading to improved mood and overall well-being. However, it is important to note that if you are struggling with depression or other mental health issues, you should consult your doctor before taking any medication.

Psychologically speaking, gratitude also positively affects our mental health and outlook on life. Studies have found that when people are asked to list things they are grateful for each week over time, it increases happiness overall. Those who practice gratitude tend to be more optimistic about their lives and less likely to become depressed or anxious. This is because expressing gratitude can increase positive emotions, such as joy and contentment, which help counteract negative thoughts or feelings of stress or despair.

Gratitude also has other physiological benefits as well. Research has shown that people who express thankfulness regularly tend to have lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels than those who don’t practice gratitude regularly. Furthermore, studies have found that those who practice gratitude often experience improved physical health due to its calming effects on the body’s nervous system, which can reduce inflammation and improve immunity.

The Benefits of Gratitude on Mental Health

Apart from improving brain chemistry, expressing gratitude also has many other mental and physical benefits:

Reduces Stress and Anxiety

When we practice gratitude, our mind shifts away from worrying about what might happen in the future towards being present in the moment. We become more aware of our surroundings and appreciate the little moments that make life special -- like feeling the sun on your skin or hearing birds chirp as you walk down a street -- something we often take for granted when we are too focused on our worries or anxieties. This shift from negative thoughts helps us relax and feel calmer, significantly reducing stress and anxiety levels.

Improves Mood

Gratitude has incredible power when it comes to lifting our moods. Taking the time to identify what you are thankful for - like a yummy breakfast, an inspiring book, or time spent with family and friends - can benefit your mental health. Research has demonstrated that spending just a few moments daily focusing on the positive aspects of life triggers the release of feel-good hormones like endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin in the brain. This can help reduce feelings of depression and improve your overall well-being.

Increases Empathy and Compassion

Gratitude can also help increase our empathy and compassion toward others. When we think of things we are thankful for, it reminds us how much we have been given in life and widens our perspective to see the world through a lens of abundance rather than scarcity. This encourages us to be more compassionate and understanding of other people’s situations, even if we don’t necessarily agree with them.

Increases Self-Esteem

Practicing gratitude allows us to focus on our strengths and accomplishments rather than dwelling on shortcomings and failures. Whether it's expressing thankfulness for an important relationship in your life or patting yourself on the back for completing a difficult task, acknowledging how far you've come and celebrating accomplishments can be immensely effective in working towards increased self-esteem.

Builds Social Connections

When we practice gratitude towards others, it sets up a mindset that encourages companionship and understanding rather than competition or judgment. A simple gesture or kind word of gratitude can vastly improve the atmosphere among those around us and provide an open-hearted connection between people. As we practice gratitude more often, our relationships become enhanced, providing an overall sense of connectedness within the community.

Increases Resilience

Taking time to recognize what you have to be thankful for - physical possessions and intangible things such as relationships - creates a backdrop for optimism and increased inner strength during times of difficulty. People with a more resilient mindset can adjust their perspective, turning negatives into positives and challenging themselves to move forward with positivity rather than letting difficult situations drag them down.

Tips to Cultivate an Attitude of Appreciation

The great thing about gratitude is that it is easy to incorporate into your daily routine. Here are a few simple ways you can start expressing gratitude:

Be grateful for what you have. Being mindful of the things in our lives that we are blessed to have is an important part of expressing gratitude. It’s easy to go about our daily routines and become accustomed to not thinking twice about some of these everyday essentials. A great way to stay thankful is to start each day by opening your eyes, taking a moment to reflect, and counting your blessings. Whether it's something big or small, make it a habit to appreciate all you have been given - your health, home and family, close friends and relationships, material possessions, or otherwise. Keeping a gratitude journal is a great way to keep track of all the good things happening around you.

Practice random acts of kindness. Practicing random acts of kindness is a wonderful way to not only spread joy, but to cultivate an attitude of appreciation in ourselves. When we do something nice for somebody else without expecting anything in return, we enjoy the warm fuzzies and bask in the knowledge that what we have done has lifted someone’s spirits. Doing kind things also brings us feelings of self-growth, as it teaches us compassion and empathy - essential tools for personal development.

Pay attention to your surroundings. By noticing the sights and sounds of the world around us, we see how small we are and can also be amazed at how interconnected everything is. We can find joy in our everyday environment by tuning out the noise of life and just taking a moment to appreciate what's around us. For example, take a stroll outside when you have free time -- feel the sun on your skin, look up at the sky, listen to the birds chirping around you -- these simple activities will allow you to stop worrying about meaningless concerns and instead focus on being present in each moment.

Be present in the moment. Being present in the moment is a surefire way to increase gratitude and enjoyment of life. With so much happening all around us, getting bogged down in thoughts of what tomorrow or next week has in store can be tempting. However, if we take time to savor the present moment and fully live within it, we can truly appreciate what's going on right now. Being present helps us prioritize gratitude for all we have and experience rather than being distracted by the future or mulling over the past.

Appreciate yourself. Gratitude should be extended not only to those around us but also to ourselves. We can be overly critical of ourselves when evaluating our successes or failures. Instead, learning to appreciate the effort we put in and remember the success that has come from it. It may not be tangible, such as reaching a professional goal or earning a degree, but acknowledging each step we take along our journey can increase feelings of gratitude for all that is happening in our lives. Remembering how far you've come and how much you have accomplished is important to maintaining self-gratitude and appreciation.


Practicing gratitude can profoundly impact our mental health and even improve physical well-being due to its calming effects on the body’s nervous system. By acknowledging what we are thankful for and expressing appreciation for those around us, we can cultivate positive emotions, reduce stress and anxiety levels, increase self-esteem, and build stronger social connections. Gratitude can also help us become more resilient in the face of adversity, making it a powerful tool in our mental health toolbox.

By taking just a few moments each day to recognize what we are thankful for, we can create positive changes that will benefit our mental and physical well-being. So, why not give it a try? You may just be surprised by the results!



The purpose of the above content is to raise awareness only and does not advocate treatment or diagnosis. This information should not be substituted for your physician's consultation and it should not indicate that use of the drug is safe and suitable for you or your (pet). Seek professional medical advice and treatment if you have any questions or concerns.