Every November, as Americans across the nation sit down to a meal of roast turkey and all the trimmings, they ask themselves and each other what they are thankful for. But why do we limit this practice to Thanksgiving? There’s some compelling evidence — both scientific and anecdotal — that gratitude has remarkable benefits for our well-being.
Join us as we take a look at how the active practice of gratitude is a valuable form of journaling for mental health. We’ll also offer some tips for how to get the most out of giving thanks, each and every day.
The First Step to Gratitude? Refuse Comparisons
It was President Theodore Roosevelt who famously said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” That notion rings truer now, in this age of social media and planned obsolescence, than ever before. It takes real effort to be grateful when your Facebook and Instagram feeds are chock-full of other people’s seemingly perfect lives.
On the flip side, all it takes is one sob story about a homeless man, a desperate refugee, a double amputee, or an abused child to make us count our blessings — at least temporarily. But experts say that this type of comparison isn’t healthy, either. It is more apt to make us depressed or guilty.
Instead of judging ourselves based on where we are in relation to others, it’s better to be socially curious. Ask yourself what you can learn from other people, their skills, and their experiences.
Shift Your Focus To What You Have Instead of What You Lack
Gratitude, at its heart, is a way of reframing how you view the world. Shift your focus from what you lack to what you have. So instead of feeling angry that you can’t afford the new iPhone,” think about how having a smartphone in the first place means your kids can contact you whenever they need to.
Rather than thinking, “I wish we could take a three-week tropical vacation,” appreciate the fact that you are gainfully employed, have a pool in your backyard, or own a reliable car that you can use for weekend getaways.
Start Small to Truly Harness the Power of Gratitude
Remember that Thanksgiving tradition we mentioned earlier, in which everyone takes a moment to mention what they’re appreciative of? There are always the inevitable jokes about food (“I’m grateful for elastic-waist pants!”) or football (“Thankful I’m not a diehard Buffalo Bills fan who’s going to get disappointed tonight, like Uncle Steve and Aunt Jen!”).
Otherwise, chances are that most people name the same top three or four blessings: health, family, employment, a roof over one’s head, plenty to eat.
Keeping a gratitude journal will help you focus on the so-called little things. The first day of sunshine after a week-long stretch of rain. Playing a board game with your children. Indoor plumbing or high-speed Internet service. Date night. A good relationship with your mother-in-law. The fact that you don’t have a head cold.
The journal gives you an opportunity to actively seek out positive aspects of your everyday existence. This can be a powerful weapon in the war against comparison and taking life for granted.
The Emotional and Physical Benefits
Gratitude is helpful for maintaining a positive outlook on life and helping you through tough emotional times. Yet an increasingly large body of research tells us that it can have measurable effects on our physical health, as well.
Some of the advantages that gratitude confers include:
- Lowered risk of depression and anxiety
- Increased resilience and perseverance after a traumatic event
- Analgesic effects and improved tolerance of pain
- Better, more restful sleep
- Lower blood pressure
- Stronger immune response
- Higher motivation to exercise and take care of your body
- Better decision-making skills
- Lowered risk of substance abuse or alcoholism
- Improved optimism, compassion, leadership skills, generosity, empathy, and humility
Being grateful isn’t just good for your soul; it can help your physical health and even extend your life span!
How Does Journaling for Mental Health Work?
Simple: any way you want it to! Seriously, the only necessities are a few moments out of your day, a notebook, and a pen. You may have seen bloggers and IG influencers who use fancy “bullet journals” and brightly colored markers. If this approach makes gratitude journaling more appealing to you, go for it!
But you don’t need to be hyper-organized or have artistic talent to reap the rewards of thankfulness. All you have to do is reflect, then write down a few things that you’re especially grateful for in the moment.
Some folks find journaling most effective when they do it on a daily basis, but you can start out with a few days a week if you want to go slow. Just remember to be specific, physically write down the items rather than doing the exercise in your head, and put your heart into it. Rattling off an obligatory list of blessings isn’t going to be effective.
This exercise is just for you, so there’s no pressure to share your lists with anyone if you don’t want to. However, researchers say that expressing your gratitude to others is even more beneficial than simply jotting down a note. It strengthens relationships, providing a positive effect not just on you, but on the recipient, as well.
It stands to reason, after all. Remember the last time that your spouse, child, coworker or friend sincerely thanked you for something? It feels good to be appreciated, and sharing your gratitude can create a positive feedback loop that keeps those good feelings going!
Ready to Start Thanking Your Lucky Stars?
Journaling for mental health is just one of the many tools that emotionally healthy people use to maintain well-being. Gratitude journals are a simple way to train your brain and become more positive.
As it becomes a habit to write down the things you’re thankful for, you will find that you have blessings in abundance — maybe more than you ever even realized!
If you have mental health issues that are exacerbated by addiction, contact Northbound today. We offer a free, confidential, and no-obligation consultation as the first step on the road to recovery.