“when Every Decision Counts: Benefits Of Informed Legal Advice” – With the rise of managed health care, which focuses on cost and brevity, mental health professionals have had to face this burning question: How can they help clients get the greatest possible benefit from treatment in the shortest possible time? get?

Recent evidence suggests that a promising approach is to complement psychological counseling with other activities that are less taxing for clients but produce higher outcomes. In our research, we zeroed in on one such activity: the practice of gratitude. In fact, many studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings are happier and less depressed.

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The problem is that most research studies on gratitude have been done with high-performing people. Is gratitude beneficial for those struggling with mental health concerns? And, if so, how?

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We set out to address these questions in a recent research study involving nearly 300 adults, mostly college students, who sought mental health counseling at a university. We recruited these participants before they began their first counseling session, and, on average, they reported clinically low levels of mental health at that time. Most of the people who seek counseling services at this university are usually struggling with problems related to depression and anxiety.

We randomly divided the study participants into three groups. Although all three groups received counseling services, the first group was instructed to write a letter of gratitude to another person every week for three weeks, while the second group was asked to express their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences. write in The third group did not do any writing activity.

What did we see? Compared to participants who wrote about negative experiences or received only advice, those who wrote letters of gratitude reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended. This suggests that gratitude writing may be beneficial not only for healthy, well-adjusted individuals, but also for those struggling with mental health concerns. In fact, it seems that practicing gratitude over receiving psychological counseling has greater benefits than counseling alone, even when that gratitude practice is brief.

Gratitude can really work on our mind and body. While not definitive, here are four insights from our research that suggest what might be behind the psychological benefits of gratitude.

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First, by analyzing the words used by participants in both writing groups, we were able to understand the mechanisms behind the mental health benefits of writing a thank you letter. We compared the percentage of positive emotion words, negative emotion words, and “we” words (first person plural words) that participants used in their writing. Not surprisingly, those in the gratitude writing group used a higher proportion of positive emotion words and “we” words, and a lower proportion of negative emotion words, than those in the other writing group.

However, people who used more positive emotion words and more “we” words in their gratitude letters did not necessarily have better mental health later. Only when people used fewer negative emotional words in their letters did they report significantly better mental health. In fact, it was the lack of negative emotion words—not the abundance of positive words—that explained the mental health gap between the gratitude writing group and the other writing group.

This may suggest that writing a thank-you note improves mental health by diverting attention from toxic emotions, such as anger and jealousy. When you write about how grateful you are to others and how much other people have blessed your life, it may be much more difficult for you to think about your negative experiences.

We told participants who were assigned to write thank-you letters that they did not need to send their letters to their recipient. In fact, only 23 percent of respondents who wrote thank-you letters sent them. But those who didn’t send their letters still reaped the benefits of gratitude. (Because the number of people who sent their letters was so small, it was difficult for us to determine whether the mental health of this group was better than that of those who did not send their letters.)

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This suggests that the mental health benefits of writing thank-you letters are not entirely dependent on communicating that gratitude to another person.

So if you’re thinking of writing a thank you letter to someone, but you’re not sure if you want that person to read the letter, we encourage you to write anyway. You can decide later whether to post it (and we think it’s often a good idea to do so). But just the act of writing a letter can help you appreciate the people in your life and distract yourself from negative emotions and thoughts.

It is important to note that the mental health benefits of gratitude writing in our study did not appear immediately, but gradually increased over time. Although the different groups in our study did not differ in levels of mental health one week after completing the writing activities, those in the gratitude group reported better mental health than the others four weeks after the writing activities, and this was the difference in mental health. 12 weeks after even greater writing activities.

These results are encouraging because many other studies suggest that the mental health benefits of positive activities generally decrease rather than increase over time. We do not know exactly why this positive snow effect occurred in our study. Thank you letter writers may have discussed what they wrote in their letters with their advisors or with others. These interactions may have reinforced the psychological benefits of writing gratitude itself.

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For now, the bottom line is this: If you engage in a gratitude writing activity, don’t be too surprised if you don’t feel dramatically better immediately after writing. Be patient and remember that the benefits of gratitude may take time.

About three months after starting the psychotherapy sessions, we took some of the people who wrote thank-you letters and compared them to those who didn’t write any. We wanted to know if their brain processes information differently.

We used an fMRI scanner to measure brain activity while people from each group performed a “presence” task. In that task, someone regularly paid a small amount of money to those people, who were called “benefactors”. This benefactor only asked that they give money to someone if they were grateful. Our participants then decided to spend how much of the money, if any, on a worthy cause (and we actually donated that money to a local charity).

We wanted to distinguish donations motivated by gratitude from donations driven by other motivations, such as feelings of guilt or obligation. So we asked participants to rate how grateful they were to the charity, and how much they wanted to help each charity cause, as well as how guilty they would feel if they didn’t help. We also gave them surveys to assess how grateful they were in their lives in general.

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We found that across participants, when people felt more grateful, their brain activity was different from brain activity associated with guilt and wanting to help a cause. Specifically, we found that when people who are generally grateful gave more money to a cause, they showed increased neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of ​​the brain associated with learning and decision-making. This suggests that people who are more grateful are also more careful about how they express their gratitude.

Most interestingly, when we compared people who wrote gratitude letters to those who didn’t, the writers of gratitude letters showed greater activity in the medial prefrontal cortex when they experienced their gratitude in the fMRI scanner. This is interesting because this effect was observed three months after the start of letter writing. This suggests that simply expressing gratitude can have lasting effects on the brain. While not definitive, this finding suggests that practicing gratitude may help the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude, and this may help improve mental health over time.

GGSC’s gratitude outreach is supported by the John Templeton Foundation as part of our Expanding Gratitude project.

Although these are only the first steps in what should be a longer research journey, our research so far not only suggests that writing thank you letters is helpful for those seeking counseling services, but also explains what lies behind the psychological benefits of gratitude. At a time when many mental health professionals feel overwhelmed, we hope this study can point them—and their clients—into an effective and beneficial tool.

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Even if you’re dealing with serious psychological issues, if you haven’t written a thank you letter before, we encourage you to give it a try. Most of our time and energy is spent trying to find what we don’t currently have. Gratitude reverses our priorities to help us appreciate the people and things we do.

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