How To Practice Gratitude When You're Depressed

How To Practice Gratitude When You're Depressed
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 08 June, 2023

Despondency, hopelessness, apathy, demotivation, and feelings of emptiness and existential meaning are some of the consequences of depression. However, practicing gratitude when you’re feeling down can rebuild your mental focus, making it more flexible and receptive. It may not, by itself, turn off the complex mechanisms of this mood disorder, but it’s a helpful and positive move.

Aesop said that “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” Indeed, this action frees you from many burdens and helps you appreciate the most important aspects of life. Exercising it daily will bring you great benefits. There are several strategies to help achieve it that are both enriching and healing.

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

-Albert Einstein-

The benefits of practicing gratitude when you’re depressed

There are several essential techniques for dealing with depression. Psychological therapy, antidepressants (if the doctor prescribes them), and lifestyle changes are key. It’s in this last area, of introducing new habits into daily life, that gratitude is valuable.

Research conducted by John Cabot University (Italy) highlights the positive effects of gratitude against anxiety or mood disorders. When navigating situations dominated by darkness, defenselessness, and negativity, this dimension opens up new perspectives. With it, comes changes, For instance, it:

  • Improves your self-reflection.
  • Reduces your ruminative thoughts.
  • Increases your feelings of hope.
  • Reduces your critical and damaging internal dialogues.
  • Minimizes your feelings of fallibility or worthlessness.
  • Improves the ideas you have about yourself.
  • Increases your ability to open up and connect with other people.
  • Helps you discover the value of self-compassion and the need to treat yourself better.
  • Promotes empathy and more positive emotions.
  • Promotes acceptance and the ability to accept things that are impossible to change.

In essence, practicing gratitude when you’re depressed acts as psychological protection. It’s a healing exercise that encourages a more flexible and receptive mental approach. In fact, it’s extremely beneficial for everyone, not just those dealing with a mental condition.

How to practice gratitude when you’re feeling depressed

Person writing her experiences in a journal as a sample of her practice of gratitude when she is depressed
Keeping a gratitude journal is a useful tool if you’re suffering from depression.

Gratitude is very present in Eastern culture. It’s a way of achieving peace of mind and building an internal state with greater harmony and more calm and optimism. However, this psychological craft requires willpower and also a certain amount of proactivity. This is because, when experiencing a psychological disorder, it’s quite difficult to activate and make changes.

If you want to make improvements, you must make gratitude a habit, even if, at first, it requires some effort and your mind is telling you “Today I just don’t feel like doing anything”. You have to stop these feelings of inertia. The following strategies will be useful.

Gratitude allows you to accept difficult realities, and the fact that you can’t control everything. You must value what you have. This is a great help in dealing with depression.

1. Keep a journal

You might already have a diary or maybe you kept one in the past. In fact, one of the ways of practicing gratitude when you’re depressed is by keeping a gratitude journal.

This is a beneficial technique, as confirmed in research conducted by the University of Indiana Bloomington (USA). The study confirms its usefulness as a complementary technique in psychotherapy.

This is how you write a gratitude journal:

  • Write down every day everything for which you feel grateful.
  • Describe the good times you’ve shared with others.
  • Every day, remember an event from the past that made you happy and write it down in the diary.
  • Write in detail the positive emotions you’ve felt today. This will feed your feelings of gratitude.
  • Highlight your skills or characteristics that you’re proud of and that you appreciate.

2. Make a gratitude jar

Every day, on a piece of paper, write down what you’re grateful for. Then put the paper in a jar. Once a week, read all the messages.

3. Cognitive reframing of gratitude

This strategy consists of rethinking and restructuring your negative thoughts in a more rational way and applying the filter of gratitude. Here’s how to do it:

  • Write down the dysfunctional and negative thoughts that you have on a daily basis. For example, thoughts like “I’m worthless”, “Nothing’s going to turn our right”, or “Everything’s going wrong”.
  • Ask yourself if these ideas are useful to you and are based on the truth.
  • Try to reframe these ideas. Is there a way to look at your perceptions from a more positive and hopeful angle?
  • Reflect on what you can give thanks for to make yourself feel better. For instance, tell yourself that, while you often feel useless and don’t trust yourself too much, you know that you’ve achieved many things. Appreciate the support you give yourself and the courage you have to continue working on yourself and overcome this difficult moment.

4. Cultivate gratitude in your environment

If you’re dealing with depression, you might find yourself closing in on yourself. This separates you from everyone and everything. So, try and open up to your environment by carrying out acts of altruism and kindness. They only have to be small actions and simple gestures that are of benefit to others, but they’ll make you feel better about yourself.

On the other hand, also try to be aware of and appreciate what others do for you. For instance, don’t hesitate to tell them: “Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for what you’ve done for me”.

5. Social connection

To treat depression, you need to change some of your habits. Try and promote social connection through simple rewarding actions. Create moments that you later feel grateful for having experienced. For example:

  • Make a new friend.
  • Give a gift to your partner.
  • Have a coffee with a friend.
  • Take a walk on the beach or in the mountains with someone you appreciate.

The here and now is made up of really simple sensations, people, and experiences, but they’re extremely rewarding. If you appreciate them, they’ll become like mental photographs that you won’t forget.

6. Write letters of gratitude to those you love

Make an effort. Grab a pen and piece of paper, and think of all those special people who make your world worthwhile. Your partner, friends, family, children…even your pets. Write down the reasons why you’re grateful to have them in your life. Describe their actions, gestures, and words that they dedicate to you and that you appreciate. This is a really comforting exercise.

7. Appreciate the beauty of the here and now

Healing gratitude is connected with the heart. It means appreciating the beauty of the present. After all, the best moments and the most decisive opportunities are in the here and now. So, embrace what’s happening right now and give thanks for everything, big and small. In fact, for everything beautiful that’s surrounding you.

Friends hugging each other to act out how to practice gratitude when you're down
Giving thanks for the good times and creating new ones is a healthy way of dealing with depression.

Showing gratitude promotes feelings of well-being

Showing gratitude is one of the easiest ways to improve your mood. It reduces your intrusive thoughts and helps you develop a more self-compassionate outlook. In addition, it means you can connect with life in a more active way. However, bear in mind that this resource is a complementary exercise to psychological therapy.

But, if you introduce both strategies into your daily life, the substrate of your depression will gradually weaken. So, don’t hesitate to ask for specialized help and change those negative habits in your life. It’ll bring you closer to the well-being you need.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Liang, H., Chen, C., Li, F. et al. Mediating effects of peace of mind and rumination on the relationship between gratitude and depression among Chinese university students. Curr Psychol 39, 1430–1437.
  • Petrocchi, N., & Couyoumdjian, A. (2013). The impact of gratitude on depression and anxiety: the mediating role of criticizing, attacking, and reassuring the self. Self and Identity, 15(2).
  • Sohal, M., Singh, P., Dhillon, B. S., & Gill, H. S. (2022). Efficacy of journaling in the management of mental illness: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Family medicine and community health10(1), e001154.
  • Wong, Y. J., Owen, J., Gabana, N. T., Brown, J. W., McInnis, S., Toth, P., & Gilman, L. (2018). Does gratitude writing improve the mental health of psychotherapy clients? Evidence from a randomized controlled trial. Psychotherapy research: journal of the Society for Psychotherapy Research28(2), 192–202.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.