The Daily Mail and other publications have reported on a study of depression and saying 'thank you'. The Mail article starts:
"It is only two small words. But saying 'thank you' to others could be the key to beating depression."
Well...let's take a closer look.
The US study asked 352 people about their personalities in order to find out the degree to which they feel depressed or grateful, and how they deal with stress and other people.
They found that people who express gratitude are better at reframing negative situations and get depressed less often, and people who are frequently depressed find it more difficult to open up to others and express gratitude less frequently.
Not that earth-shaking, is it?
If you have a positive outlook on life, you find more things to be grateful for and sometimes you express thanks when others do something nice.
When you're depressed, the things you see as negative loom larger, there seem to be fewer things to be grateful for, and often you feel less like interacting with people.
And from this, the study concludes that "Expressing gratitude for small acts of kindness could be impactful to [the depressed person's] physical and mental health."
The problem is that the study didn't then get the depressed group to express gratitude more often and measure whether that made a difference to the extent or frequency of their depression.
CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSE AND EFFECT
The study established correlation, not cause and effect. That is, expressing gratitude and levels of depression are connected, but the study didn't show that changing the former will affect the latter.
This kind of unproven conclusion is very common, and publications, blogs, and websites love anything that smacks of an instant answer. The "Three tips for changing your life in the next five minutes without any effort on your part" kinds of posts get a lot of clicks.
Regardless of the weakness of the study, finding things to be grateful for and expressing that gratitude to other people or in a journal does seem like a good idea...just not a panacea.
Thank you for reading this post. :)