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The field of positive psychology is the study of human thoughts, feelings and behavior with a focus on strengths instead of weaknesses. Much work has been done in this field on the concept of gratitude and its numerous benefits. Gratitude helps people experience more positive emotions, deal with adversity, enhance their relationships and even improve their health, and is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.

Taking time to recognize and express gratitude for people and things in our lives can not only make life more meaningful, it can significantly improve mental health. Research suggests that at the core of many psychopathological conditions like depression, anxiety and stress are unhappiness; the act of expressing gratitude induces positive emotions, primarily happiness.

According to the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, gratitude is more strongly linked to mental health and life satisfaction than any other personality trait. Grateful people experience more joy, love, and enthusiasm and enjoy protection from destructive emotions like envy, greed, and bitterness. Gratitude also reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders.

When we express gratitude — or receive it — our brains releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel good. Practices such as keeping a gratitude journal or writing letters or sending thank you notes to friends and family, can make us feel better and enhance our mood naturally and immediately. Indeed, many studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed.

The act of gratitude writing can be beneficial for healthy, well-adjusted individuals, as well as for those who struggle with mental health concerns. Research indicates that incorporating a form of gratitude practice while receiving psychological counseling offers a greater benefit than counseling alone.

Studies have shown that expressing gratitude can be beneficial if you don’t share it with others. Journaling or writing a letter can help you appreciate the people in your life and shift the focus away from negative feelings and thoughts. Gratefulness helps steer us away from toxic emotions such as jealousy or anger. By contemplating the good, even just the little things in life, it will likely become harder and less habitual to ruminate on the more negative experiences.

Gratitude can provide an immediate sense of well-being and calmness and can go a long way in reducing stress in the moment. Some of the mental health benefits of gratitude will accrue further over time. If you don’t feel dramatically better immediately after counting your blessings or writing, keep it up; by consciously practicing gratitude every day, we can strengthen and reinforce the neural pathways in our brains and ultimately create a permanent more grateful and positive nature.

So whether you’re dealing with general stress, sudden disappointment or a more complex mental health issues, the practice of gratitude can help ease you through