The Dora Awuah Foundation commemorates the month of April as Gratitude Month. The goal is to raise awareness on the benefits of gratitude and how it impacts mental health and well-being. 

Dora Awuah Foundation is a non-governmental organisation (NGO), which promotes mental health through awareness creation on mental health issues, crisis intervention, and empowerment, focusing on the youth.

Gratitude is from the Latin word “gratus” which means pleasing or grateful. Psychologists conceptualize gratitude as a positive emotional response that is perceived on giving or receiving a benefit to or from someone (Emmons & McCullough, 2004).

This article aims at raising public awareness on Gratitude and its implications for Mental Health and Wellbeing. It will also highlight ways of remaining grateful through the course of life within the context of one’s culture.  

Gratitude and Prosocial Behaviour

Gratitude correlates strongly with positive behavioural outcomes. Researchers over the years have explored these outcomes in relation to gratitude in different settings. Consistently, evidence shows a strong positive correlation between gratitude and a number of socially endorsed behaviours.

For instance, DeSteno, Duong & Lim (2019) established that the experience and offer of gratitude is a predictor of fount of virtuous behaviour. The study found that grateful individuals pay off their debts to the benefactors without hesitation.

The implication is that a person who has a good sense of appreciation is likely to engage in an honest, truthful behaviour.

Conversely, socially inappropriate behaviours such as cheating have also been found to correlate negatively with gratitude in the same study by DeSteno, Duong & Lim (2019).

Additionally, the good feelings associated with gratitude are reciprocal, that is, self-rewarding. As such, it motivates tendencies to give back to others either materially or through volunteerism.

The idea of transcending the self to affect others through voluntary and prosocial actions has been found to be a key dimension of meaningful life. 

Apart from its potential for maintaining healthy social ties within one’s social network, a deep sense of gratitude can also be a currency for eliciting regular, stable and adaptive support.

When offered sincerely, gratitude could act as a social insurance for individuals and groups in times of need. The positive valence of gratitude thus can serve to induce prosocial behaviours in consonant with Edward Thorndike’s law of effect in Psychology which says that “any behaviour that is followed by pleasant consequences is likely to be repeated, and any behaviour followed by unpleasant consequences is likely to be stopped.”

The critical need to rely on services and support of persons and organizations especially in times of adversity requires that individuals show gratitude in order to maintain and even deepen existing support systems. Expression of gratitude and its reciprocal effects build stronger relationships and social connectedness.

Conversely, refusing to offer gratitude duly can lead to emotional discomfort and a feeling of guilt. The question then is: How do you feel each time others appreciate your efforts? Do you experience similar emotions when you also appreciate others? How do such feelings come about?

Gratitude and Brain Functions

Gratitude is noted as a central nervous system booster. When we receive or offer gratitude either to God or humans, positive feelings are perceived.

These emotional responses then trigger a cycle of activities in the brain resulting in the growth of new brain cells and a higher volume of grey matter.

The brain releases dopamine and serotonin which makes us feel good about ourselves and others. The resultant effect is optimism, feelings of contentment and self-esteem. As positive emotions increase, feelings of guilt, shame and anger reduces.

Consequently, positive emotions are rewarding in themselves and as such, enhances prosocial behaviours even in the absence of material incentive.

How Gratitude Impacts Mental Health

Gratitude enhances mental health and well-being in a number of ways. First of all, it promotes harmonious community living and social connections with significant others. Support drawn from such connections boost resilience against stress and emotional pain from traumatic situations.

Additionally, gratitude promotes brain functioning which reduces feelings of fear, anxiety and depression. Sleep and feelings of happiness are also improved. 

Expressing and receiving of gratitude relieves the mind of social pressures, which otherwise results in distresses. Feelings of gratitude promote a positive outlook on life even in difficult moments.

Finally, gratitude results in deep introspection and self-awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses which set the pace for optimal growth and fulfilment. 

Ways to Develop Gratitude

  1. Appreciate nature. You can spend time with nature or meditate on its magnificence remotely.
  2. Keep a journal of gratitude. Pen down either daily or weekly a reason to be grateful.
  3. Meditate daily, either first thing in the morning or last activity before bed time. Reflect over the day and identify at least one good thing about the day.
  4. Go into remote memory, identify names of people who have impacted your life and appreciate them unconditionally.
  5. Introspect and appreciate yourself for your unique strengths and weaknesses.
  6. At the societal level, authorities should regularly and publicly show gratitude to good citizenship behaviours while citizens also must learn to show gratitude to authorities for meeting their felt needs. The net effect could be the creation of conscientious leaders and citizens who will appreciate each other’s effort and work together for an accelerated development of the country.       

Conclusion

Anytime there are feelings of despair, anxiety and anger, take time to congratulate yourself on the little achievements. Be intentional about offering gratitude to persons who have invested in any way to your current state of life. The impact of gratitude is reciprocal in that the receiver and giver benefit proportionally. And so for optimal mental health and well-being, consider gratitude.