Welcome to Week 6 of our Full Year of Resolutions. This week we’re focusing on something that you might not expect to see included in tips about being healthy, but it’s something that can have great impact for good on our health. This week’s tip is about practicing gratitude. Specifically, we’re talking about using a gratitude journal to improve our health.
We know you’ve heard it before. “Be more grateful.” “Focus on your blessings.” Again, this is something that is easy to say, but more difficult to actually do. It’s even harder to do it consistently.
The Power of Gratitude
The benefits of practicing gratitude are real. They’re even backed up by science! Consider this interesting study:
The University of CA, Berkeley conducted research involving 300 college-aged adults, most of whom were seeking counseling services for issues related to depression and anxiety. The findings related to the practice of gratitude were significant. Study participants who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health for many months after the study ended. In addition, MRIs on study participants indicated that expressing gratitude has lasting effects on the brain…effects that are strong enough to contribute to improved health.
Practicing gratitude is something that takes relatively little effort, but that yields worthwhile results. If you ever want to really be present, to be in the moment, just stop and think about a few things you’re grateful for. When you do that, you know you are in the here and now. This is a great tactic to use when you are worrying about something or feeling some anxiety. It brings your focus to the present… and to the positive.
Using a Gratitude Journal
One of the things we use is a gratitude journal. We’ve been doing this for a long time, and we love the benefits it brings. There are many ways to use a gratitude journal. David likes to pick a subject, and then just let the thoughts flow. Writing it down is so powerful. The sheer act of writing forces you to make connections you might not otherwise make. It’s a way to bring your conscious and subconscious brain more into alignment.
Another way to use a gratitude journal is by listing. Some people like to begin or end their day by writing a list of things they can think of for which they’re grateful in that moment. Studies say there are significant benefits to journaling a mere fifteen minutes, three times a week. They also say it’s most effective to be specific about what we’re grateful for.
Sometimes in life, we get stuck in a place where we have a lot of negative thoughts. We get discouraged or overwhelmed. That’s when a gratitude journal is particularly helpful. When you’re not in a frame of mind to write about what you’re grateful for, you can flip through past entries in your journal. You’ll be reminded of positive things, things we can be so quick to forget sometimes. You start feeling uplifted and inspired, and eventually you think of something you can write about for today. This shift in your mind also affects your body, and it can impact your health dramatically.
Gratitude Combats a World of Ills
Practicing gratitude is more important than ever given the state of the world today. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with the many heavy things happening around us that are out of our circle of control. Carla shares a story that many of us might relate to:
One day she came home feeling burdened by some hard things happening in her family. There were also hard things happening in the world. It felt like a lot, maybe too much, and she was struggling. She remembered it had been a while since she’d written in her gratitude journal. She started writing down all the things she could think of to be grateful for, even on that very hard day. Fifteen minutes later, she was surprised to realize she had filled two and a half pages with all the good things in her life.
By spending just 15 minutes focusing on gratitude, Carla’s mindset shifted from a place of negativity and fear to a much more hopeful, proactive place. The world around her hadn’t changed at all. Her challenges hadn’t gone away. But she changed, thanks to a quick realization of all the good things in her life at that moment. A shift in focus is a powerful thing.
Train Your Brain to Be Grateful
In 2014, David became certified as a brain trainer. He’d been working with people to lose weight and improve their health, and he wanted to harness the power available through changing the way people think. He knew that our thoughts dictate our actions; if we can change thought patterns, we can change outcomes.
Everyone struggles with the mental baggage we inherit as we go through life. And we live in a society where we are bombarded with negativity. So when you begin practicing gratitude through a gratitude journal, you start to change your thoughts. As you write down your thoughts and feelings, you realize how much you have to be grateful for. As you focus on that gratitude, your body releases endorphins. You start to actually feel better! Gratitude not only improves your mental health, it affects your overall physical health and wellbeing.
Focusing on the Negative Makes Everything Worse
We know that being grateful doesn’t solve all your problems. We know that people have real pain. Many of you are struggling with really hard health issues. We don’t mean to diminish that. Thinking positive thoughts doesn’t make it all better. But focusing on the negative definitely makes it worse.
David expresses his thoughts about gratitude and his own health struggles well: “By focusing on gratitude, most people had no clue how sick I was. I was battling cancer. My feet were on fire with severe peripheral neuropathy. I had severe arthritis, brain fog…so many issues. But most people didn’t realize that at the time. I am grateful for humor. I used humor a lot during these years of struggle. I’d joke with people and get them laughing, which got me out of my moments of struggle. I love life, and I love making the people around me happy. That really helped when I was dealing with some really negative things in my life.”
When you’re in pain, it is hard not to focus on it. It’s easy to fall into a rut and think about all we can’t do because of it. David lived with chronic pain for years. He knows how hard it is not to focus on it! And there are bad days when you do. But he also learned that if he could focus on the things he could do, it helped to not allow the pain to rule his life. When he focused on positive thoughts, his attitude changed, as did his ability to face hard things.
Gratitude won’t solve all your health problems. But it will affect your health, because you’ll go through those challenges differently if you’re not focused on all the negative.
Gratitude Keeps Us Going
Sometimes it’s so hard to understand why we have to go through a really hard thing. But each time Carla and David meet with a client and they’ve seen a breakthrough that has improved their lives, it’s given purpose to all the hard health challenges she and David have been through. Because they had those struggles, they can help others get through theirs. They love helping their clients figure out what’s working and to eliminate what’s not.
Each day David gets emails asking, “How did you do this?” People want to know how he gave up gluten, and how he can live without sugar. Recently someone asked, “How can my mind be sharper?” He loves sharing about how he overcame brain fog (read more about that in Eating to Live: Unlocking the Leaky Gut Code), and how grateful he is that he did!
Here at More Than Healthy we’re grateful for YOU. Thank you for joining us on this journey. We love being able to do something good, and that something good has come out of all the challenges that David has been through.
So this week, we challenge you to start (or be more consistent) with a gratitude journal. And share your gratitude with your friends, family, and neighbors. We know you’ll notice the difference.
Watch this week’s video here. And remember, we love your feedback! Please reach out with any comments or questions.