Gratitude is a powerful practice
These past few weeks, I’ve been mentally transitioning from one life stage stage to another. I was either a student or full time employee, and now I’m growing my Health Coaching practice. For the first time in my life I am in charge of my time. It’s a shift in mindset and work ethic, and it requires personal motivation and a bit of self-compassion. I’ve reflected on this process, and a useful question is always, “where do we start?” In the last three weeks, I’ve started my morning exactly the same each day. I wake up and make myself coffee. I then sit by the window facing the sea, and journal for 20 minutes. It’s helped in more ways than one…
Journaling and shifting our attention to what we are thankful for, as opposed to what’s missing, can make a huge impact on the quality of our lives. This article will outline the 5 scientifically proven benefits of gratitude journaling and how it can change your life. Then, you can take a look at my practical steps to starting your gratitude journaling practice.
5 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude
It can reduce inflammation
There was a pilot study that investigated gratitude journaling with heart failure patients. A daily gratitude practice decreased inflammatory markers (CRP, TNF-α, IL-6) compared to the control group. If you don’t fall into this heart disease category, this finding is still important for you. Your body might have a reactive stress response, for example you have PCOS, or an inflammatory joint condition. In this case, decreasing your stress response through journaling can really help your body.
It reduces stress
In the same pilot study, there was an increase in heart rate variability after journaling, which corresponds to a decrease in your stress response. In other words, just writing down what you’re grateful for each day benefits us in more ways than one. It will not only reduce inflammation but also stress, with objective results. Just writing down what you’re grateful for each day, will not only reduce inflammation but also stress, in physiological ways.
Just writing down what you’re grateful for each day benefits us in more ways than one. It will not only reduce inflammation but also stress, with objective results
It overcomes our powerful negativity bias.
As humans, we’ve evolved with a negativity bias. This was important for our ancestors. It helped them to notice abnormal and negative sounds, movements and interactions. It was a warning sign that danger was imminent. In our day and age, this isn’t as important anymore. We are generally safe and secure, so listening to our negativity bias is usually not helpful. It perpetuates negative thought.
Furthermore, in an article entitled, Looking Up: Mindfulness Increases Positive Judgments and Reduces Negativity Bias (2011), mindfulness practice increased levels of optimism. What’s interesting, is that the group that had a daily mindfulness practice, were able to better categorize the positives in their lives compared to the control group.
It increases our happiness
We can rewire our brains to focus on happiness. Whether we like it or not, we’re always practising something. We’re either reinforcing our unhelpful thoughts and actions, keeping up with positive ones, or we’re learning new tasks. When we have a cultivation practice, such as gratitude journaling, we are wiring our brains to think of the positives. In a 2008 study researching the effects of mindfulness on stress and wellbeing, mindfulness was shown to improve your positive emotions while lessening feelings of negativity or stress.
It helps with chronic pain relief
According to a 2013 study in South Africa, 41% of patients attending primary healthcare clinics experienced chronic pain. According to research, arthritis can be successfully managed through mindfulness, gratitude journaling and body scan meditations. In a 2019 study, it was found that these techniques reduced pain anxiety, intensity and interference, as well as fear of movement. To be clear, mindfulness, or the act of purposefully paying attention, at the present moment, is an exercise that is used in reducing suffering. Mindfulness is the grounded, non-judgemental acceptance of all physical sensations and thought. It is, therefore, the opposite of catastrophization and negative rumination, otherwise known as the resistance to pain.
Practical Tips for Gratitude Journaling
If you want to try out gratitude journaling, here’s an easy step by step guide to get you started.
- Buy a notebook dedicated to journaling. It can be small and simple. Or you could download an app. Two good apps are:
- Think about a time in your day that you could fit it in. Right before bed, or as soon as you wake up are often good choices. It’s away from the hustle and bustle of your day.
- Set a reminder on your phone. It’s not a habit yet, so don’t rely on memory. Set an alarm until you get into the swing of things.
- Get started. Write down 3-5 things each day that you appreciate. What are you grateful for?
- Be as specific as possible. Don’t just write a word or two, for example, “my friend”. Rather, “I’m grateful that my friend, Aimee, took the time to schedule a catch-up call with me”. It’s focused and specific.
- Optional: Tell someone about it. Take a moment to tell someone close to you about what you’re grateful for today. It will help to deepen that positive neural pathway you’ve just created.
If you’d like to dive deeper into meditation in general, but not sure where to start, check out my article about starting a meditation practice. For now, take this all in, and maybe start your gratitude practice today. Would love to hear about your experiences in the comment section below.