Gratitude and forward-thinking could help safeguard mental health

Updated: Jan 16


Practising gratitude and keeping your mind set on the future could help foster a more positive mental wellbeing, according to new research.


As the whole of the UK now finds itself in a renewed state of national lockdown, finding ways to protect and nurture mental wellbeing is again a top priority for most of the population.


For many, previous national lockdowns have resulted in an improved relationship with nature and the outdoors as a means of safeguarding their mental health.


The increased public interest has been so pronounced that last month the government announced a new investment fund to help research the link between nature and wellbeing.


And now, a new study may have revealed another option for wellbeing seekers: gratitude and forward-thinking.


Involving 216 participants, the study looked at three 'positive psychology' interventions that focus on different time-orientations – past, present and future – and their ability to predict wellbeing.


The study population was split into 3 experimental groups: a nostalgia (past) group, a gratitude (present) group, and a best possible self (future) group. A control group was also included where participants did not use any of these interventions.


The nostalgia group were asked questions to help them recall events from before lockdown that they felt nostalgic about; the gratitude group were asked to focus on the positives of current life (e.g. list 3 things that went well today); and the best possible self group were asked to imagine best possible scenarios related to life after lockdown.



Read more: PHE campaign launches as 8 in 10 look to improve physical and mental wellbeing



According to the study's findings, those in the gratitude and best possible self groups scored better in terms of positive emotions than the nostalgia group, suggesting that focusing on the present and future may be more effective in promoting mental wellbeing than dwelling on the past.


"In future lockdowns, individuals could be encouraged to take a more positive present or future-orientation outlook as a means of maintaining their well-being under these difficult conditions rather than dwelling on life before lockdown," write the authors. "This could be implemented within workplace or educational settings or utilising social media and could encourage weekly gratitude or BPS interventions to be incorporated into people’s daily routines."


In addition, the study also found that participants with lower attachment anxiety (how in need of attachment to others a person is), lower attachment avoidance (how much a person wants to be in contact with others), higher emotional regulation ability (how well a person can manage their emotion), and more social interactions coped better in terms of mental wellbeing than their counterparts.


According to the study authors, interventions that encourage these characteristics could be used alongside gratitude and best possible self psychology to help protect the wellbeing of as many people as possible.


"Together both these approaches would help create a buffer against the isolation and disruption caused by any future lockdowns by both changing the time-orientation perspective of the individual and enabling them to maximise the resources available to them."


To read the full study paper, click here.