Did you know that the simple act of gratitude can improve your mental health? Did you also know that this simple action practiced regularly makes changes in the brain that help to elevate mood?
A study from the journal Psychotherapy Research has shown the positive mental health effects of practicing gratitude. Young adult college students who were about to enter their first young adult counseling session participated in the study. These young adults reported clinically low levels of mental health at the time mainly with depression or anxiety.
In the research study, young adults in the study were asked to write one letter of gratitude to another person each wee for three weeks. What they found that those who wrote the gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health 4 weeks and 12 weeks after the writing exercise ended.
Through fMRI brain scans, it was also shown that the region of the brain that is involved with learning and decision making. The medial prefrontal cortex showed changes for those participants who engaged in a "pay it forward" campaign.
This shows evidence that practicing gratitude and helping others may train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude. This in turn may contribute to improved mental health over time.
The Holiday Season: A Time For Gratitude but a Struggle For Some
During the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holiday season, gratitude is often a topic of conversation. Afterall, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks and Christmas about hope and renewal.
I also know that this time of year can be a challenge for some. Losing a loved one during the Holiday season brings memories of the loved one no longer being present. Financial difficulty make make the desire to give a bit more challenging. Even Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can create feelings of depression for others.
I can personally relate to this being a difficult time of year. My parents passed early in my young adult life. Since 2003, I've spent the Holiday seasons without being able to enjoy the festivities with my parents.
Yet, I have great in-laws that I am grateful for and with whom we spend the Holiday season with. Where one door closes another opens.
And the winter blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder is a thing. It is like a seasonal depression that occurs during the winter months and disappears once spring hits. Many people struggle with the winter blues and may find it challenging to find joy in the Holidays.
As research supports the positive mental health benefits of gratitude, regularly expressing gratitude can help both those who find joy during the Holidays as well as those who may struggle a bit during this time of year and for good reason.
Gratitude can help improve our mood and help us enjoy this season despite the challenges.
What Are You Grateful For?
So, what are you grateful for? What is in your life at this moment of time that brings you happiness, strength, and gratitude?
Risking some self disclosure for the purpose of sparking thoughts of gratitude in your life, I'll start the list. Some of these on my list will be shared by you as well where you are grateful for the same things. Others may be different but may spark other ideas of gratitude.
My Wife & Life Partner
If marriage is something in your life plan or a committed relationship, we all hope that we can marry up. In my case, I absolutely struck it rich!
My wife has been my north star in my life, the constant that has helped me through challenging times with love, strength, and patience. I know for a fact that I would not be the man I am today without her loving influence in my life.
She's outnumbered with me and our two boys with no girls to be on "team mom". But our boys see, appreciate, and have benefited from her love, devotion, and commitment to them. We all love her even if she chooses to stat listening to Christmas music in July (no one is perfect!).
Is there someone in your life who has supported you through thick and thin and helped you? Maybe it's not a spouse or partner but a close friend. Someone who has been your constant in your life.
My Two Boys
I have provided counseling and therapeutic services to teens, young adults, and families since 2003. Having two teenage boys, I now get to see if I can practice what I preach in raising teenagers (so far so good but I may have a biased opinion).
I am grateful for my boys and the example they are to me. Both of my boys are caring, genuine, and authentic. They each have their unique challenges in their lives just like the rest of us. Yet they approach their challenges with confidence and maturity.
Are there those in your life that may rely on you as a teacher, a doctor, or volunteering with children and who you are grateful for? You learn life lessons from these people where it may not have been expected? Someone who is an example who helps strengthen you as a person?
What Was Learned in Life Challenges
I know that the challenges in our lives can help shape us and help us grow as individuals. I really wish there were ways to learn the same lessons without the hardships but through those hardships character can develop.
The challenges I have had in my life have shaped me to be the person I am today. I don't know that I would have chosen to work with teens, young adults, and families had I not struggled during my own teen years.
Looking back, are there life challenges that you have encountered and overcome and if so, what did you learn? Have they helped shape the person you are today in positive ways? Would you go back and change anything knowing what you know today? Can you be grateful for them today?
Being a Teen Therapist, Young Adult Counselor, & Family Therapist
There is no better job in the world than to be a teen therapist, young adult counselor, and family therapist! To work with a teenager or young adult who may be struggling with anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks, depression, ADHD/ADD, trauma or other struggles AND to help guide them and their family through these struggles is an honor and a privilege.
Helping teens and young adults make positive changes in their lives at their age increases their chances of transitioning into adulthood on stronger more solid footing. They may not need to address those challenges during the adult years when life can get very complicated.
I have a job that I enjoy and look forward to every day. To see the strength and willpower that teens, young adults, and families have to overcome some pretty tough challenges is awesome and inspiring!
Again, BEST JOB EVER!
Do you have a job where you feel you make a difference in other people's lives? Maybe it's not a paid job but volunteer position like Scouting, FFA, the PTA, or other volunteer positions?
Gratitude: One Helpful Approach in Alleviating Emotional Struggles
Gratitude is one approach in helping to alleviate the suffering that depression and anxiety can bring. It is not the end all and be all of solutions but one of several that when combined, can help us live a life of happiness and contentment.
Challenging the negative bias that our brains naturally gravitate towards can help lift our mood. Gratitude can help with the negativity bias. Yet, there are some challenges that will require more than gratitude alone and may need a teen counselor or young adult therapist.
In October of 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, and Children's Hospital Association have declared a "national emergency in children's [and teenager's] mental health"
While gratitude can help, we also offer other research supported approaches like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Trauma Focused - Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Neurofeedback, and Solution Focused Therapy.
Katy Teen & Family Counseling: 50+ Years Combined Experience in Teen Therapy, Young Adult Counseling, & Family Counseling
At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we have a combined 50+ years of providing counseling and therapeutic services to teens, young adults, and families. If your teen, young adult, or family is struggling with emotional or behavioral challenges, there is hope and there are answers.
If you are experiencing an emotional or behavioral challenge and finding it difficult to overcome on your own, our therapists can help. All you need to do is follow these three simple steps:
Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling
Speak with one of our caring therapists
Begin the emotional healing today
Other Therapy & Counseling Services Offered at Katy Teen & Family Counseling
At our Katy, Tx location of Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we use counseling and therapeutic approaches that are supported by research and shown to be effective. Our counselors specialize in teen therapy, young adult counseling, and family therapy.
We also have counselors who provide marriage counseling and couples therapy. Whether it's the rigors of life, the stress and challenges of having a teen or young adult who is struggling, or other challenges in your relationship, couples therapy and marriage counseling can help.
In addition to teen therapy, family therapy, and counseling for young adults, we also offer the following therapy and counseling services:
Board Certified Neurofeedback Therapy
Peak performance (optimal academic brain performance)
Peak performance (optimal athletic brain performance)
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR Therapy)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
About the Author
Jason Drake is a Licensed Clinical Worker. He specializes in teen therapy, family counseling, and counseling young adults. He has provided therapy to teens and families since 2003.
Jason is also a regular contributor to various magazines and publications lending his expertise to various mental health related topics. You can check out these articles on our "Featured Articles" page on our website.