How expressing gratitude can improve your mental health

News4Jax Insiders share what they’re grateful for ahead of the holidays

If there ever was a month to be grateful it's November. Thanksgiving literally means giving thanks! If you find yourself smiling after you take stock over your life there's something to that.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – If there ever was a month to be grateful it’s November, the month of Thanksgiving, and if you find yourself smiling after you take stock over your life there’s something to that.

Maybe you’ll give thanks before Thanksgiving dinner, surrounded by family and friends. After the past year we’ve had, we know more than ever it’s not a guarantee but instead, something that makes many people pause to reflect on the good things and people in their life. That’s gratitude, and according to psychologist Tracy Alloway, it’s worth expressing every month not just in November.

“So when we express gratitude out loud, when we write a thank you note, all of these simple concrete actions actually communicate to our brain to release these feel-good hormones that we know balance out depressive symptoms,” said Alloway.

Alloway is talking about naturally releasing dopamine and serotonin. Antidepressants synthetically increase levels of these feel-good hormones in your brain. Imagine how a simple thank you or reflection could do that without drugs.

”The key here is to be concrete, not just to say, ‘I feel grateful. I feel good.’ But actually be intentional. What are you grateful for? Maybe you’re grateful for a person, maybe you’re grateful for an event, maybe you’re grateful for something you did for you? Whatever that is, the more intentional and concrete you are, the more likely you are to boost those chemical levels in your brain,” said Alloway.

Our News4Jax Insiders weighed in on what they’re most grateful for.

Sabrina JaRaye wrote: “Popular opinion is that I should feel ‘less than’ because of my experience as a homeless vet. Honestly, the experience instilled the bravery and discipline necessary (for me) to minimize my lifestyle and create a stable holistic wellness brand. The experience taught me that the sun is always shining (somewhere), no matter the weather or time of day. For that lesson, I am ever grateful.”

Kate Baldwin wrote: “I’m most grateful for my two amazing sons. It took me 21 years and several miscarriages to get them. I was told neither would make it into this world alive. But here they are and because of them my heart and life are full of love and happiness.”

You have to love Mary Conely’s response: “I’m grateful for these days if it rains, the backyard has been resodded, and when there’s rain it means I don’t have to water it all. I am grateful for at least 100 Bromeliads, my Godmother gave me in the 1980s, I’m almost done replanting. I’m grateful for a Youtube video by Tova Friedman who is a holocaust survivor.”

You can almost see the smiles on these Insiders’ faces. But there’s one more step to get the full benefit.

”The research shows us that doing it daily, obviously builds a habit and a pattern in our brain. But the second thing we know from research is that by expressing it out loud, rather than just thinking it can have more power. So when we either write it down or say it out loud, our brain processes that very differently,” Alloway said. “It’s almost like a third person saying to you, ‘Hey, Tracy, you’re grateful for this that happened yesterday.’”

Gratitude also helps with our connection with others. Alloway said when you express gratitude to someone else, like ‘Thank you for that lovely text you sent me yesterday. Thank you for making coffee or buying me dinner,’ that gratitude enhances social bonds and a social connection, which in turn, helps us feel more connected.

Thank you for reading this!

About the Author:

Anchor on The Morning Show team and reporter specializing on health issues.