Just imagine a solution to depression so simple, that it can be implemented every day at no additional cost. Those struggling with depression can reap enormous benefits by focusing their attention on gratitude for the good things in life.
As an intervention, this is an opportunity for people to enhance their own mental health (Killen & Macaskill, 2015). Gratitude is the expression of appreciation for what is valuable and meaningful to oneself (Sansone & Sansone, 2010).
A growing body of research is documents the numerous positive effects of gratitude on psychological well-being. Longitudinal research is suggesting that higher levels of gratitude reduce depression and stress, even in the face of disease (Wood, 2008).
Deepak Chopra and Gratitude
A new study conducted by Deepak Chopra and colleagues found that gratitude was associated with numerous benefits including better mood and sleep and with reduced depression and stress (Mills, et al., 2015).
The implications of this are significant as the practice of gratitude as an intervention is not complex or expensive to implement. It represents a potential treatment approach that speaks to the growing concerns about the critical rates of depression across the spectrum of care, from long term care homes to assisted living and retirement homes.
This particular study focused on the role of gratitude in heart failure patients but the benefits may well extend to other populations. For example, a 2-week study released in August 2015 examined the impact of keeping a gratitude diary on the wellbeing and stress levels of adults over the age of 60, and found significant positive differences in both indicators (Killen & Macaskill, 2015).
Applying the Practice of Gratitude
You can apply this practice with residents and in your own life. Sansone and Sansone (2010) suggest a number of strategies which may enhance feelings of gratitude and here are three you can try. Choose one what feels best for you—or all three. Then implement as a daily practice.
1. Journaling (e.g. writing down three things daily for which you are grateful).
2. Writing/sending a gratitude note or letter for someone.
3. Meditating on gratitude.
Measuring the Results
Further studies are needed to clarify the relationships between gratitude and wellbeing but existing research supports the practice as a potentially effective treatment tool. You can easily try the practice yourself, and with residents and measure the changes over two weeks. Here’s how.
1. There is a gratitude questionnaire with 6 questions readily available in the public domain called the Gratitude Questionnaire GQ-6 (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002). Click here for the form. Answer the questions and give yourself a score.
2. Then practice gratitude by starting a journal and writing down three things you are grateful for every day, and why you are grateful for them.
3. At the end of 14 days, fill out the measure again.
Share it with residents—we have found residents enjoy this practice immensely. So go ahead—give yourself a daily dose of gratitude. Invite interested residents to try it too. See if the researchers are right!
Kristine Theurer, MA (Gerontology)
Founder, Java Music Club, Inc.
Killen, A., & Macaskill, A. (2015). Using a gratitude intervention to enhance well-being in older adults. Journal of Happiness Studies, 16(4), 947-964. doi: 10.1007/s10902-014-9542-3
McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J. A. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(1), 112-127. doi: 10.1.1.337.3704
Mills, P. J. R., Laura, Wilson, K., Pung, M. A. C., Kelly, Greenberg, B. H. L., Ottar, Maisel, A., Raisinghani, A., . . . Chopra, D. (2015). The role of gratitude in spiritual well-being in asymptomatic heart failure patients. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 2(1), 5-17. doi: 10.1037/scp0000050
Sansone, R., & Sansone, L. A. (2010). Gratitude and well being: The benefits of appreciation. Psychiatry, 7(11), 18-22.
Wood, A. M., Maltby, J., Gillett, R., Linley, P. A., & Joseph, S. (2008). The role of gratitude in the development of social support, stress, and depression: Two longitudinal studies. Journal of Research in Personality, 42(4), 854-871. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2007.11.003