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Being Grateful Does Not Reduce Anxiety Or Depression, study finds

Jim Folk author
Written by: Jim Folk.
Last updated: July 12, 2020


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Being Grateful Does Not Reduce Anxiety Or Depression, study finds

We've often been told that gratitude reduces anxiety and depression. However, many people didn't find it helpful in reducing their anxiety symptoms or symptoms of depression.

As it turns out, research agrees. Being grateful doesn't reduce anxiety or depression.

While gratitude can help us to be more appreciative of the things we have, and can be helpful in changing mood in some instances, it's much less of an effective remedy for those who are anxious and depressed.

If you are anxious or depressed, there are many natural interventions that are proven to reduce anxiety and depression, such as mindfulness, regular deep relaxation, art therapy, music therapy, spending 20 minutes or more in nature, and so on.

For the best results, research has shown that working with an experienced therapist is the most effective way to overcome mental health challenges, such as anxiety disorder and depression.

You can read the press release for the research about gratitude below:


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Gratitude interventions don't help with depression, anxiety

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Go ahead and be grateful for the good things in your life. Just don't think that a gratitude intervention will help you feel less depressed or anxious.

In a new study, researchers at The Ohio State University analyzed results from 27 separate studies that examined the effectiveness of gratitude interventions on reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The results showed that such interventions had limited benefits at best.

"For years now, we have heard in the media and elsewhere about how finding ways to increase gratitude can help make us happier and healthier in so many ways," said David Cregg, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in psychology at Ohio State.

"But when it comes to one supposed benefit of these interventions - helping with symptoms of anxiety and depression - they really seem to have limited value."

Cregg conducted the study with Jennifer Cheavens, associate professor of psychology at Ohio State. Their results were published online recently in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

There are two commonly recommended gratitude interventions, Cheavens said. One is the "Three Good Things" exercise: At the end of the day, a person thinks of three things that went well for them that day, then writes them down and reflects on them.

Another is a "gratitude visit," when a person writes a letter thanking someone who has made a difference in their life and then reads the letter to that person.

The 27 studies involved in this analysis often had participants do one of these exercises or something similar. The studies included 3,675 participants.

In many studies, participants who did the gratitude interventions were compared with people who performed a similar activity that was unrelated to gratitude. For example, instead of writing about what they were grateful about, a college student sample might write about their class schedule.

The gratitude intervention was not much better at relieving anxiety and depression than the seemingly unrelated activity.

"There was a difference, but it was a small difference," Cheavens said. "It would not be something you would recommend as a treatment."

As an alternative, Cheavens and Cregg recommend people pursue treatments that have been shown to be effective with anxiety and depression, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

The results suggest that it isn't helpful to tell people with symptoms of depression or anxiety to simply be more grateful for the good things they have, Cheavens said.

"Based on our results, telling people who are feeling depressed and anxious to be more grateful likely won't result in the kind of reductions in depression and anxiety we would want to see," she said.

"It might be that these sort of interventions, on their own, aren't powerful enough or that people have difficulty enacting them fully when they are feeling depressed and anxious."

The results don't mean that there are no benefits to being grateful or to using gratitude interventions, the researchers said. In fact, some studies show that such interventions are effective at improving relationships.

"It is good to be more grateful - it has intrinsic virtue and there's evidence that people who have gratitude as a general trait have a lower incidence of mental health problems and better relationships," Cregg said.

"The problem is when we try to turn gratefulness into a self-help tool. Gratitude can't fix everything."


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The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.


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REFERENCES:

Ohio State University. "Gratitude interventions don't help with depression, anxiety: Being grateful has benefits, but not for these issues." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 March 2020. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/20030913001