Glenn has been discussing the correlation between the "me-centered" culture and the rise in cases of mental illnesses. Could it be that turning our focus away from ourselves and toward others could help our mental health epidemic? Recent studies indicate, YES.
Indiana University psychology professors Dr. Joshua Brown and Dr. Joel Wong conducted a study that found the practice of gratitude expedites recovery for mental illness patients seeking psychological therapy. Their findings are pretty astonishing.
Patients who adopted a gratitude practice showed significantly more progress than those who didn't.
Brown and Wong's study followed nearly 300 adults, mostly college students, who were seeking mental health counseling at a university. Most of the participants reported critically low mental health when the study began, the majority of whom were seeking treatment for either anxiety, depression, or both.
The participants were then randomly assigned into one of three groups while receiving counseling services. The first group was instructed to write one letter of gratitude to another person each week for three weeks. The second group, on the other hand, was asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences. The third group was not assigned any writing activity in addition to counseling. What did they discover?
Those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health after four weeks compared with the participants who wrote about negative experiences or only received counseling. Moreover, those who wrote gratitude letters reported that the improvements to their mental health persisted 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended.
This study demonstrates the incredible, healing impact of gratitude on patients with critical mental illnesses. So how does gratitude actually change your brain? Brown and Wong explained the science behind it.
"Gratitude unshackles toxic emotions."
Practicing gratitude releases toxic thoughts and language and replaces them with positive language. When studying the writing samples from the two groups, Brown and Wong discovered that those in the gratitude writing group used a higher percentage of "positive emotion words" and a lower proportion of "negative emotion words" than those in the other writing group. The study showed that the practice of gratitude allows people to process negative emotions where they can be released and replaced through positive emotions.
Gratitude changes your focus from "I" to "we."
Brown and Wong also said they looked for the repetition of "we" as opposed to "I" in the writing samples as evidence of a positive emotional change. Repetition of the word "I" indicated the writer was internally focused on their negative emotions while repeated use of the word "we," on the other hand, was evidence that the writer was grounded in the world outside of their internal emotions. Gratitude practice forced participants to look past their current circumstance and examine how they were a part of their social circles in a positive way. This, according to Brown and Wong, turned out to be extremely healing.
Gratitude is counter-cultural.
Glenn has been discussing the state of our "me-centered" culture and its detriments on our mental health. In 2022, Glenn rightly said "we have built a society that does NOT connect" and that "humans need human interaction. Humans need to develop compassion. Humans need positive input."
Is it any coincidence mental health is at an all-time low and suicide rates have risen 30 percent in 2022? Perhaps our "me-centered" culture is one of the key causes of our isolation and loneliness, and turning our focus toward the world around us, as Brown and Wong's study suggests, is the start of building a happy and fulfilling life.