While it may sound counter intuitive, if you’re having a bad day, the best way to feel better may be show gratitude for what you already have. That’s according to some of the research done over the past few years at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and Stanford.
In in a study conducted at UC Berkeley, one of the more interesting findings is that you can begin to feel better right in the moment when you express gratitude. Even more interesting, if you show gratitude on a daily basis for just a few weeks, the positive impact can last for months after you stop the daily gratitude practice.
In the Berkeley study, researchers studied 300 adults, mostly comprised of college students, who were seeking mental health services. Most of the study participants reported that they were in fairly poor emotional health and many were experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression. The participants were separated into three groups, with each of the groups receiving the same counseling services.
However, in addition to counseling, group #1 also wrote 1 letter of gratitude to a different person each week for 3 weeks, while group #2 wrote about their negative thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Group #3 did no writing at all. Can you guess which group reported the greatest improvement in mental health?
If you guessed group #1 – the gratitude letter writing group – you’d be correct. Compared to the other groups, the letters writers reported a significant improvement in mental health relative to the other participants. The improved feelings of wellness were experienced both 4 weeks into the study, as well after 12 weeks after the writing exercises ended.
As with most health related topics, there are usually multiple, interconnected factors that explain the results. According to work done by Robert Emmons of UC Davis, an expert on the topic, by expressing gratitude, we are affirming goodness in our environment and developing a sense of connectedness and indebtedness. These sensations can result in improved sleep, lower cortisol levels, and lower feelings of depression.
Unlike feelings of happiness that are believed to affect the brain’s immediate reward system, researchers believe that gratitude affects the cortical structures of the brain, which are associated with social reasoning and higher order cognition.
So, if you’re in search of a way to stay positive and keep things moving forward, consider adding some gratitude into your daily routine!
Most of us already know that exercise plays an important part in improving our physical health. But what may surprise you is just how much exercise can improve your mental health, including your mood and even more serious ailments such as depression and anxiety.
According the research performed by the National Institute of Health, “aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proven to reduce anxiety and depression”. While the exact science behind how the metabolic aspects of exercise are still being studied, its impact is related to our increased blood circulation to the brain and body and its “physiologic reactivity to stress.”
In fact, according to Michele Olsen, Ph.D. and senior clinical professor of exercise physiology at Huntington University in Montgomery, Alabama, the positive effect of exercise on body and mind are immediate. As blood begins moving quickly to our muscles, we start burning calories and give a nearly instantaneous boost to our mood. Whether it’s walking, running, yoga, or cycling, the flooding of endorphins triggers the “runners high” or all around good feeling.
When it comes to children and school performance, exercise is an absolute must. Exercise has repeatedly shown a research studies to improve kids’ cognitive performance. This occurs in 3 core areas of improved performance during the school day:
In one study from the University of Illinois, school kids in the 6,7, and 8th grades who were part of the exercise control group improved 2-fold relative to the non-exercise group in “a range of cognitive tasks.” Specifically, two types of cognitive enhancements were found. First, the exercise control group showed a large increase in “attentional inhibition,” which measures one’s ability to block out distractions while focusing on the current task.
Second, the control group improved in “cognitive flexibility,” which means those kids were able to switch back and forth between different higher level tasks – those that require intellectual focus – while maintaining speed and accuracy.
If you’re interested in learning more about exercise and children’s health, visit the CDC’s Healthy Schools website for detailed suggestions and information.
With exercise such an important part of adult and child health, make sure that you or your children are incorporating exercise into your daily or weekly routines. Even if you’re busy, make the extra effort to go running or visit your Yoga class. If the research is right, you’ll not only feel better, but perform better too.