By Yuleisy Cardoso, M.A., MFT.
It’s not uncommon to express gratitude on a day like Thanksgiving, but what should happen if we practice expressions of gratitude everyday such as keeping a daily gratitude journal?
Neuroscientists reveal there are lots of mental health benefits when we keep a daily gratitude journal, it helps us create a happier and healthier mental state. A center called Mindfulness Awareness Research Center based out of UCLA tells us that expressing gratitude on a daily basis changes the way we re-wire our brain. We are no longer creating brain cells and reinforcing neuropathways between those cells that make us behave and perceive our world like “Negative Nancies” or with the glass half-empty. Instead, our brain begins to create brain cells and reinforce connections between these cells that help us see our world in a more positive and rosie-colored way. Now we begin to behave, think and experience emotions like a “Positive Patty”, and we begin to perceive our world with the glass half-full, we are happier and healthier beings.
You can find studies online and read how keeping a gratitude journal boosts mental health. A study conducted by Robert A. Emmons at the University of California and his collegue Mike McCullough at the University of Miami divided participants into three groups. One group was asked to keep a gratitude journal, the second group of participants was asked to keep a journal of things in their day that was bothering them, and the third group was asked to keep a daily journal that tracked neutral events, (neither good nor bad). After ten weeks of journaling, the group instructed to keep a gratitude journal reported feeling 25 percent happier than the other two groups.
In another study conducted by the same researcher, Robert A. Emmons, participants were asked to complete gratitude exercises each day. These participants reported feeling more altruistic (self-less) towards others, offering others more emotional support as opposed to participants who did not practice gratitude exercises.
An additional study was conducted in which participants were asked to keep a nightly gratitude journal whilst the other group was asked to not keep a nightly gratitude journal. The researcher found that the group who kept a nightly gratitude journal reported waking up feeling more refreshed than usual. This group also reported feelings of deeper connections with others in contrast to the group that did not keep a nightly gratitude journal.
Lastly, a study conducted by a group of Chinese researchers found that people who expressed gratitude on a daily basis (not necessarily in a journal), reported having better sleep and experienced fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety that can surface as a result of chronic stress.
Now, as a full time step-mother of a 16- year-old girl and a nine - year-old girl, a full-time mother of a six -year-old boy, a part-time substitute teacher and mindfulness educator, I can tell you it’s challenging to remember to express gratitude on a daily basis. It can be done, but most challenging when your plate is quite full. I am offering four suggestions below to help make this a more successful to-do on your to- do list.
1. Offer expressions of gratitude in your daily prayers or meditation practice at night or in the morning (this is a practice I do at night) for even the basic but vital things—the clean air we breathe, the food on our table, the roof over heads, healthy children, supportive family members and friends, etc.
2. Keep a journal with a pen at your bedside so that upon waking or just before bed you can jot down at least three things to be grateful for that day or in life.
3. Express daily gratitude towards yourself by acknowledging all your hard-work and accomplishments that day even if it is as simple as getting out of bed. Or, if you’re a mom to a newborn infant, getting a shower in that day!
4. Keep a post-it on your mirror with three or four things in life you are grateful for so that while you’re brushing teeth, putting on makeup, etc. you can be reminded of these on the daily.
In summary, it can be challenging but it can be done and the benefits one reaps from expressing gratitude daily are wonderful. Remember, when you express gratitude daily, you are re-wiring your brain to be healthier and happier, as a result, you begin perceiving your world in a much brighter way. Now that’s something to be grateful for!