Gratitude Doesn’t Help Alleviate Symptoms of Depression or Anxiety

It may benefit you (and others) in other ways, but it won't mitigate your mental health challenges.

By Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.
March 19, 2020

For years we’ve been reminded (primarily by Oprah) of how important it is to be grateful for the people and things in our lives. And while reflecting on your life and expressing gratitude for what and who you have is a good exercise, it’s not doing anything to help with your depression, according to a new study out of Ohio State University.

Published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, the research involved an analysis of 27 different studies that investigated whether gratitude interventions are effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Contrary to popular belief (and Oprah), the researchers found that expressing gratitude had very little positive impact on depression and anxiety.

“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,” David Cregg, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in psychology at Ohio State University, said in a statement. “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.”

Analyzing data from 3,675 participants who took part in 27 separate studies, the researchers looked at the effectiveness of a well-known gratitude exercise (writing down three things you’re grateful for before going to bed) in comparison with a non-gratitude oriented intervention (writing down you’re daily schedule). Those who did the gratitude intervention reported a comparable reduction in depression and anxiety as those who made lists unrelated to gratitude. 

“There was a difference, but it was a small difference,” Jennifer Cheavens, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Ohio State University and co-author of the study, said in a statement. “It would not be something you would recommend as a treatment…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.”

About the writer:

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer as well as an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for print and online publications, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe AtlanticRolling StoneCNNFodor’sLifehackerReader’s Digest and Playboy.

Outlier Disclaimer

This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

Copy link
Powered by Social Snap