While incorporating a gratitude practice is certainly beneficial for other reasons, the researchers found that when it comes to anxiety and depression, gratitude may not help in improving related symptoms.
“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 researcher David Cregg. “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.”
Limitations of a gratitude practice
To better understand what effect a gratitude practice can have on anxiety or depression, the researchers analyzed nearly 30 different studies that included over 3,600 participants.
In the studies the researchers evaluated, participants completed a daily activity related to gratitude. Most of these activities had participants reflect on what in their lives they’re grateful for. After assessing the participants’ mental health, the researchers learned that the gratitude practices weren’t effective in helping them cope with anxiety or depression.
“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,” said researcher Jennifer Cheavens. “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 or anxious.”
The researchers recommend more rigorous treatments that could better benefit those struggling with anxiety and depression. Similarly, recent studies have found that remaining hopeful is a key component to coping with anxiety and depression.
However, the team doesn’t want to downplay the positives associated with practicing gratitude. Though it wasn’t so effective in improving anxiety and depression, there is an upside to being more grateful.
“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,” said Cregg.