When Annette brought up writing an article on self-care, my mind immediately went to the word gratitude. In my eyes, one of the best forms of self-love and care is to take a moment out of your day to give thanks for what you already have. It is a practice that reminds you to think about the positive things in your life. I find that it also helps to give me a sense of purpose. Having daily gratitude practices can significantly improve one’s mental health. And that is what self-care is all about!
I popped on to PubMed and decided to search the word “gratitude” because I was curious if there was any sort of scientific background on the effects of daily gratitude. Why? Because I am a science nerd, of course! To my surprise PubMed had dozens of articles on the positive effects of gratitude and how it is involved in mental health research. A 2017 study measured the effect of gratitude on a person’s mental well-being and found that it may be a way to improve, “emotion regulation and self-motivation through resting-state functional connectivity and motivation-related brain regions (Kyeong 17)”. This means that after the individual performed a gratitude meditation, their neural network had a positive effect on their anxiety and depression levels.
Everything I read came to a similar conclusion; that while gratitude needs to be studied more, it still results in a positive effect on mental health, even months after the study is performed. This goes to show that we all could benefit from incorporating more gratitude into our lives. In this article I am going to highlight five different ways you can sneak some gratitude into your day.
- Morning journal prompts
Waking up and expressing gratitude is one of the best ways to start your day. While even simply thinking to yourself, “I am thankful to see another day” is a great way to practice gratitude, an even better way is to start a daily morning gratitude journal. This is something that I have done for over a year now and I truly think it has changed my life. You can use a gratitude journal that you find online, they have a variety of ones out there with different sorts of journal prompts, or you can just use a small notebook of your own. I like to leave it on my bedside table with a pen so that I can write in it as soon as I wake up. Just jot down 3-7 things you are thankful for that day. Some days are really simple for me, such as being thankful for my family and puppies, but most days I do try to be more detailed with the entries.
- Long nature walks
Nature walks are another time to express gratitude. While I usually love listening to music or a podcast while I walk, recently I have tried to go on walks without my phone. This way it encourages me to look around and think about my surroundings. It is a great opportunity to take a second and feel thankful for the present moment. You can be thankful for the beautiful scenery around you, the sunshine, the fresh air, and the trees. Nature gives us all a lot to be thankful for and nature walks are the perfect time to slip some gratitude into your day.
- Give thanks before a meal
I know this is a more obvious one for many of us, but to others it might not be thought about. I grew up saying a prayer before every meal and giving thanks for the food on our plates. This is a great time to practice gratitude for the food that you are able to have in your life. If you choose to not take part in a prayer, you can simply think to yourself about how grateful you are to have food to eat, clean water to drink and a safe place to enjoy it. I love expressing gratitude for the opportunity to have fresh produce and nutritious meals. It is a luxury and it can be easy to lose sight of that. So next time you are about to eat, even if it is just a snack, consider taking the time to give thanks.
- Do a yoga flow
Moving your body is another amazing thing we should be grateful for. I think this one can be easy to take advantage of. We do not always think about how grateful we should be to have limbs that move fluidly. Taking time out of our day to stretch, breathe, and flow can be another ideal opportunity to practice gratitude. While you are doing some yoga stretches, think about how thankful you are to have a beautiful body that can move in the ways you want it to. Feel grateful for your breath, flowing through you, in the exact rhythm you tell it to. These might all seem like small things, but we have to remember that not everyone has these capabilities. This is why that during a yoga flow is an essential time to take a second and express gratitude for your body and mind.
- Bedtime routines
There is no better time to give thanks than at the end of the day. Even if you felt like you had a bad day, there is always something good you can pull out of every single day. This is why showing gratitude before bed is crucial. My favorite way to do this takes only a few seconds. While I am lying in bed, I ask myself what went well today. This technique is a great way to reflect on the day you had and pick out the parts that went nicely. It allows you to go to bed on a positive note, feeling grateful for the day you just had and ready to take on another one.
While these five things can be done in tandem, you can also just pick a few to try. I truly believe incorporating even one of these gratitude practices will help you have a more positive outlook on your life. Gratitude really is one of the most important habits, especially during hard times like we are all experiencing in the world currently. There is a lot to be sad about, and that’s totally okay, but we all still have something that we can say is a true blessing. I hope you all take these methods along with you, because your life is a gift!
Kyeong S, Kim J, Kim DJ, Kim HE, Kim JJ. Effects of gratitude meditation on neural network functional connectivity and brain-heart coupling. Sci Rep. 2017;7(1):5058. Published 2017 Jul 11. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-05520-9
Kini P, Wong J, McInnis S, Gabana N, Brown JW. The effects of gratitude expression on neural activity. Neuroimage. 2016;128:1-10. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.12.040
Davis DE, Choe E, Meyers J, et al. Thankful for the little things: A meta-analysis of gratitude interventions. J Couns Psychol. 2016;63(1):20-31. doi:10.1037/cou0000107
Emmons RA, Stern R. Gratitude as a psychotherapeutic intervention. J Clin Psychol. 2013;69(8):846-855. doi:10.1002/jclp.22020
Tala Á. Gracias por todo: Una revisión sobre la gratitud desde la neurobiología a la clínica [Thanks for everything: a review on gratitude from neurobiology to clinic]. Rev Med Chil. 2019;147(6):755-761. doi:10.4067/S0034-98872019000600755
My name is Kathryn Durston and I am a current dietetics student at Western Michigan University. My main point of focus is holistic health and farm-to-table food. I plan to open up my own private practice one day and share my love for health with my community. In my free time I like to go hiking with my two dogs, hang out in my garden bed, read books about wellness, study for school on my front porch, write blog posts for my up-and-coming wellness blog and do yoga/workout. I would love to network with nutrition professionals and I am also looking to be a virtual volunteer for experienced RD’s. Connect with me on instagram at @naturallykat or by emailing email@example.com.