Humans can transmute and transform their psyches. Neuroscience has illustrated that our thoughts seemingly function as cognitive maps. If I go down the thought road of “butterflies,” I will start having thoughts relating to my memories which are connected to butterflies—perhaps flying creatures, perhaps caterpillars, or perhaps when my sister was a butterfly in her school play. Memories work via similar mechanisms, and one of the most fundamental aspects of this is state-recall. This means that we remember things based on the state of our mind or mood. If I am angry about something, my mind will be very quick to point out other things that make me angry. If I am sad about my boyfriend and I breaking up, I will easily recall that my best friend lives 500 miles away from me. If I get good news at work, I will start remembering all kinds of achievements throughout the course of my life.

This is a critical aspect to understand about human psychology, as human beings do not think rationally. The empirical evidence has shown that people first have emotions, then they use reason and logic to rationalize whether they should take certain actions. Yet, the mind tricks itself, and us, into thinking that it’s the other way around.

This does not mean we have to let the impulses of our emotions control us. Instead, we can cultivate habits and utilize what we understand about psychology to help us be in the state to make better choices and live happier lives. The key here is gratitude. Empirical research has overwhelmingly illustrated that gratitude is strongly and casually related to well-being.

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

In our blog on depression we discussed Beck’s model of depression, or the negative triad of beliefs which creates automatic thoughts that are disempowering, self-sabotaging, and, ultimately, depressive. This is a negative triad of beliefs about the self, others/the world, and the future. Gratitude is the antithesis of these beliefs, creating the anti-depressive cognitive maps that can help us live happier lives.
The Wiley Handbook of Positive Clinical Psychology suggests there are 4 factors which illuminate that there is a “clinically important” link between gratitude and well-being.

  1. “First, higher levels of gratitude protect from stress and depression over time. This suggests a possible role of gratitude in the resilience to clinical levels of symptomatology during life transitions, and the findings further suggest that the role of gratitude in well‐being may be causal.”
  2. “Second, higher levels of gratitude predict a wide range of clinically relevant processes, including:
    • a. Less impaired sleep
    • b. More social support seeking and active coping
    • c. Less disengagement coping
    • d. Greater development of social support
    • e. Better quality relationships
    • f. More generous interpretation of social interactions”
  3. “Third, the relationship between gratitude and well‐being seems to be unique” as it is uninfluenced by personality models and traits, yet still predicts wellbeing. This is important because there are many personality traits that predict well-being, yet these overlap each other, and ultimately lead back to already known predictors. Gratitude is different, as it stands on its own, and that is virtually unheard of in current psychological literature.
  4. “Fourth, simple exercises have been developed to increase levels of gratitude.”

What is the Best Exercise to Increase Gratitude?

The most common method in psychological literature is to simply write 3 things one is thankful for before going to bed. This is very similar to the Chrisitan idea of “counting blessings.” Those who study vedic health know that ayurveda asks us to immediately upon waking up spend 1 – 3 minutes feeling gratitude across the entire body.

I personally struggled with depression for 3 years and gratitude is how I overcame it. I would force myself when I woke up and when I went to bed to physically write down and internally list everything that I could think of that I was grateful for, even if it was just looking at the sky, the sun, or the beauty of the moon. At first, it was annoying and I didn’t believe what I was saying, but after repeating this for months my mind and my automatic thoughts started to shift. Fake it til you make it? I had literally programmed myself to be happy—when I woke up or when I went to bed and that’s how I started and ended my day. Depression still creeps back into my life and when it does, I force this on myself and shift my thoughts before I am able to slip back into the memory loop of depression. 

Gratitude is magic—happy Thanksgiving everyone! And for those reading that don’t have anywhere to go this Thanksgiving, I know a lot of people who will be spending this year’s holiday alone—you are not alone in being alone!! Perhaps it’s a day to spend time doing things that make you happy to be on this Earth or things one could only do in a physical existence such as this one. 2020 has been rough and mental health issues are getting out of control, but you are never never alone and the rainbow always does come after the darkest storm.

Photo by Mike Lewinski on Unsplash

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An Article By Evie Louise

Evie Louise is a recent psychology graduate from New York University. She is a certified in International Cannabinoid Clinical Therapy. Evie sees all forms of the cannabis sativa plant as the future of psychiatry, and hopes to use it in her therapy practice as a full spectrum approach to mental health and wellness.

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