“Journaling can be an essential way of understanding our lives,” says yoga teacher and writer Susanna Harwood Rubin, author of Yoga 365 – a book of daily wisdom.
Harwood Rubin, a breast cancer survivor, describes her writing practice as essential to navigating the tumultuous period following her diagnosis in 2015, chemotherapy and double mastectomy in 2018, and the long road to recovery. “There were a few times at the beginning of my diagnosis when I was so devastatedly depressed that I made bulletproof lists of things I was grateful for, which created a kind of flood of meaning in the turbulence of my life,” she says.
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The mental, physical, and social health benefits of a gratitude practice are well documented in the field of positive psychology. Robert Emmons, PhD, the world’s foremost expert on gratitude research, defines gratitude as the ability to see what’s good in our lives. what we might otherwise take for granted.
Anyone can benefit from relying on a gratitude practice, especially as the world prepares to celebrate the holiday season in self-isolation as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps friends, families, and loved ones apart. Gratitude can help promote wellbeing and can provide comfort in times of uncertainty and insecurity, and even comfort in loneliness. A gratitude journal serves as a written reminder of all the good things in our lives, especially when it seems easier to think about the bad things. By documenting what to be thankful for, you can lift your spirits by referring to your own words when you feel down.
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A recent article published in the Journal of Radiology Nursing describes keeping gratitude journals during the pandemic as a “Silver Linings Journal.” The author notes that thanking is “one of the oldest concepts in society, with practices being at the core of most wisdom traditions and religions.” Thanksgiving, of course, despite the troubled historical context of the holiday, is a tradition rooted in gratitude. Perhaps this year is a quieter moment: an opportunity to create time and space for meaningful solitude, reminding ourselves that as long as our basic needs are met, despite what is missing, we still have everything we need.
Mia Caine, a wellness blogger and yoga teacher, says she has relied on her daily gratitude practice for the past few months. “Between the fear / fatigue of the pandemic and recovering from spinal surgery after a car accident, 2020 was an emotional obstacle course,” she says. Although Caine is unable to practice physical yoga asanas, she says that gratitude journal helped her manage some of the difficult emotions that arose during her recovery. “I still do yoga daily through my gratitude practice, which has helped me be present and keep track of things,” she says. “I realize that even though things are challenging now, there are still good things for me.”
The health benefits of gratitude
Gratitude journal is a mindfulness practice that can help us control feelings of fear and insecurity by focusing on our belongings – what we control and what we don’t, which like the goal of a yoga or meditation practice can help cultivate self-acceptance.
Harwood Rubin says that putting words in her mind helped her own her experience instead of being bullied by it. “Without writing, I don’t know how I would begin to understand what happened to my body and my confidence,” she says.
See also 5 Ways To Express Gratitude Through Yoga
A 2019 study looked at the effects of a 15-day gratitude practice on overworked healthcare workers. Subjects were instructed to write down “three good things” each day, which resulted in a significant improvement in happiness and work-life balance after six months, with depression and burnout decreasing for up to a year. Research has also shown that practicing gratitude leads to better health outcomes in the long run, as people who practice gratitude also tend to take better care of themselves. Doing a bedtime gratitude exercise can even help improve sleep.
Not only does gratitude make us happier and less depressed, it also reduces other toxic emotions such as resentment, anger, envy, frustration, and regret. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, having a grateful mindset has helped boost athletes’ self-esteem. Gratitude has also been shown to reduce stress and increase mental toughness and resilience, as well as during times of major emotional struggles like the September 11th terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, suggesting that this is what we can focus on even in the worst of crises for what we must be grateful for helping us deal with the situation.
Socially, an attitude of gratitude is a feedback loop – it’s about thinking about how we can outwardly express our feelings of gratitude to others and how we can be of use and give back. A 2015 study published in the European Journal of Psychology found that gratitude strengthens our social bonds and relationships and decreases feelings of loneliness. A gratitude practice creates positive emotions and helps us to be fully present in our experiences so that we can deal with adversity.
How to start a gratitude journaling practice
The key to practicing gratitude is to try to make it a regular habit. Caine says her meditation practice works in tandem with her gratitude practice, which has helped her gain the perspective and insight necessary to process certain situations. A few years later, Caine says her daily gratitude practice is evolving. For beginners, Caine recommends the 3-Minute Morning Journal, a daily intention setting practice that focuses on gratitude and goal setting. She says the daily quotes and journal prompts helped hold her accountable when she started, and she still uses some of those prompts in her own journal today.
“Every morning I write three things I’m grateful for, three ways I can achieve my goals, followed by one way to show gratitude to someone in my life,” says Caine. “It may sound simple, but this exercise helps me change my perspective on criticizing what is not good enough, express gratitude, and visualize my daily success. From time to time I like to look back at my previous posts to remind myself of my growth and all the good things in my life, ”she says.
See also 7 Ways To Start a Gratitude Journal Practice
So what should we be grateful for during COVID-19? From our health to job security to food and shelter, family and friend support (even if it’s Zoom calls), if we can check any or all of these boxes, there are indeed a lot for that we can be grateful in the Covid era.
“I believe that starting a gratitude practice can be helpful for the health and well-being of everyone,” says Caine. “It doesn’t have to be time consuming or consuming – just a few minutes of thinking or writing about what you’re grateful for challenges the expectation that gratitude can only materialize when certain external factors change to make us happy. It encourages us to find joy in ourselves, despite everything that happens on the outside. “
The American Heart Association agrees that a gratitude practice is good for our health and recommends using the acronym “HEART” for gratitude journals:
- bless you: What I did today was good for my body and mind
- eat: What did I eat today that nourished my body?
- Activity: What daily exercise did I take time for today?
- Relationship: How did I let others know that I appreciate them?
- Time: What do I have to be thankful for now?
Starting a gratitude exercise can be as simple as choosing a journal that inspires you to write and setting a regular writing schedule, be it every day or several days a week. You can write short lists of, say, 10 items that you are grateful for, or describe in longer paragraphs or stream of consciousness what you value about your life that fills entire pages.
For me, I started a gratitude practice after a life-saving surgery in 2016 that detailed all of the “gifts” in my life, such as: B. Life to experience another day, the support I received from friends and family, and the understanding that my yoga practice had prepared me for this challenging moment. In those days when I’m not writing in my diary, I just said out loud what to be grateful for, which helped me get through those moments when Covid-related fear creeps in.
Remember that your gratitude journaling practice can change day by day. However, as with any spiritual practice, it is important that it feels authentic and true to you and that you can adhere to it.
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“Writing about an experience is a way of pulling that experience out of us, like pulling a splinter out of a wound,” says Harwood Rubin. “It’s a relief to get it out, to extract it.” She says that naming an experience gives us a sense of control over it – that by definition, we are no longer defined by it. “For anyone who has been through trauma, writing can be the beginning of a journey of healing and self-empowerment,” says Harwood Rubin.