Gratitude Interventions Have Limited Value in Overcoming Depression and Anxiety: Study
Fri, December 3, 2021

Gratitude Interventions Have Limited Value in Overcoming Depression and Anxiety: Study


Scholars, scientists, and spiritual leaders have reflected on the benefits of feeling grateful, such as increased happiness and positive mood, better physical health, a smaller likelihood of experiencing burnout, being less materialistic, experiencing more satisfaction with life, having less fatigue, better physical health and sleep, greater resiliency, lower levels of cellular inflammation, and an encouraged development of wisdom, humility, and patience. For groups, it can increase prosocial behaviors, help employees’ effectiveness, increase job satisfaction, and strengthen relationships. But a new study revealed that being and feeling grateful for the good things in life will not reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety among patients.


Examining the effectiveness of gratitude intervention

Researchers at Ohio State University analyzed 27 separate studies that focused on the effectiveness of gratitude interventions in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Findings, however, showed that such a kind of intervention had limited benefits. Lead author of the study David Cregg, who is also a doctoral student in psychology at Ohio State University, said via medical platform Medical Xpress that media has shown us that increasing gratitude makes people healthier and happier in many ways. Yet, when it comes to reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, they only have limited value at best.

Cregg collaborated with Ohio State’s associate professor of psychology Jennifer Cheavens, and their study was published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.


Two common gratitude interventions

Cheavens also said that the two most common gratitude interventions are the Gratitude Visit and the Three Good Things. The first intervention is a moving way of expressing one’s gratitude and deep appreciation to someone who has created a big difference in their life. It involves more than just saying thanks. Instead, the person writes a thank you letter to someone and then reading that letter to that individual. The second intervention is the Three Good Things exercise. It requires the person to write at least three things that he or she is thankful for the day and then reflect on these things at the end of the day.



The 27 studies that Cregg and Cheavens analyzed often had study participants do one of these gratitude interventions or similar to it. Overall, the analysis involved 3,675 participants. The majority of these studies compared the participants who performed the gratitude interventions to people who did the same activity but not exactly related to gratitude. For instance, rather than writing things they are grateful for for the day, a student participant wrote about his or her schedule. It shows that gratitude intervention is not particularly better when it comes to relieving the symptoms of depression and anxiety compared to the seemingly unrelated task.


Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Cheavens said, although there was a difference, it was small and not something one would recommend as a form of treatment. Rather than choosing gratitude interventions, Cregg and Cheavens recommend pursuing anxiety and depression treatments that have already shown to be effective, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps the patient think more healthily and can effectively treat major depression, persistent depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder.

CBT often talks about how one’s actions affect their thoughts and feelings, and how they perceive themselves, the people, and the world. Treatment usually guides the patient to develop more balanced and constructive ways to cope with their stressors. Gradually, it helps minimize and eliminate their upsetting behavior and disorder.



Depression and anxiety disorders: statistics

Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems, states that there were 264 million people in the world in 2017 with depression and 284 million had anxiety disorders.

Countries with the highest number of people with depression of all ages and both sexes include China (56.36 million people), United States (15.5 million), Brazil (7.22 million), Russia (6.34 million), Indonesia (6.67 million), and Bangladesh (6.03 million).

Meanwhile, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America published that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US and it affects about 40 million adults age 18 and older or 18.1% of the population every year. Although anxiety disorders are highly treatable, only 36.9% of those suffering have received treatment. Individuals with anxiety are six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders and five times more likely to go to the doctor compared to those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.

The disorder may develop from a set of risk factors, including life events, personality, brain chemistry, and genetics. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) also affects 3.1% of the US population or 6.8 million adults but only 43.2 of them are receiving treatment. Women are twice as likely to be affected by GAD as men. GAD usually co-occurs with major depression.



Ranking reasons for stress among students in France between 2018 and 2019 were exams (54%), studies (50%), the fear of not succeeding in school (45%), pressure (35%), the lack of money (24%), love relationships (23%), family relationships (20%), weight issues (13%), health issues (11%), the fact of combining student job and studies (11%), friendly relationships (11%), and other (1%). The survey was conducted by database company Statista on French students aged 16 to 28 who had been stressed out. Their method of the interview was computer-assisted web interviews or CAWI.

Life is a series of ups and downs and some may feel that life is against them at some point in their life. They may have to work longer hours, deal with personal relationship problems, or stress over bill payments. Aside from anxiety, other people feel incredibly lonely or depressed and they may suffer in silence. Professor of Psychiatry Peter Kramer also once said that “depression is not a perspective. It is a disease.” This is why a person may be grateful but can still be depressed.

Although showing and feeling gratitude is proven by science to affect people mentally and physically, the recent study shows that it is not the best choice in terms of treating depression and anxiety. Some doctors would rather suggest having a routine to help a person feel better and setting daily goals can make them feel like they succeed at what they do. That way, they will not feel worse about themselves not accomplishing the big tasks. Exercising, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep are also encouraged.