Starting and maintaining any new habit can be a difficult task to undertake at first because it is indeed something else that you have to remember to do every day. You’re already running the kiddos around, finishing up a project or undertaking at work, trying to find quality time in your relationships; it can feel overwhelming to book in time for one more thing. However, after a while, the effort you put in every day will be well worth it in the long run.
Think about the first day of a new diet or exercise routine. At first it may feel exhausting, and you will find yourself feeling sore for a few days - but soon it pays rewards. You wake up a few weeks later and the scale is down, you’ve got more energy, a skip in your step, you’re showing up as the person you’ve been meaning to be for weeks. Yes, you’ll probably have traded away an episode of the newest binge-worthy Netflix show, and that Uber Eats order you’d been placing for weeks that always felt like “self-care” or the reward for surviving another week... but did those choices truly pay dividends after the moment?
My guess is you'll find that as jam-packed as your schedule feels and seems, you do in fact have a few minutes a day to spare for one additional habit... why not try starting a gratitude journal? You'll be surprised by how much you stand to benefit from this one, and how quickly and easily you'll notice a difference.
Just like exercise, there will need to be an initial push to stick with it every day/night until it becomes a habit. So the best time to start a new habit or a new gratitude journal is now. It doesn’t matter that the kiddos are starting soccer this week, the quarterly reviews come next week, the ….. insert any reason you’d like but none of these are reasons to wait to feel better, or be happier, and show up better for the loved ones in your life.
……………… and that’s just what you are delaying.
Here are 5 incredible benefits that you can gain when you start to keep a gratitude journal.
It Increases Positivity or Happiness
When you take time to write things down that you are grateful for, you will naturally draw more of your awareness to the positive. This is because the task activates a specific part of the the brain that is tasked with awareness. This system is called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). An easy way for you to understand the RAS is to count all the circular things in the room. Go ahead, try it. They all have been there the whole time, but now your brain is looking for them, and you’ve found 5-10 already distracted from this reading. Does it shut off the second you’ve counted the ones in the room? probably not. In the next few hours your brain is looking for them everywhere. You’ll look at the signs on your way home seeing the circles. This is a similar experience when focusing on the good in your life, it gives less power to the negative emotions and greater power to the positive ones, as you are searching for positive things in your life. In the Grand Scheme of things we are talking about wiring our awareness system towards happiness. Happiness has many definitions, but in simple terms, it’s defined as experiencing frequent positive emotions, with less negative emotions. In that sense when we look at the research on happiness it is related to life satisfaction, moments of pleasure, and appreciation of life (Khoda, 2016). If we can practice gratitude we can rewire the brain for happiness!
It Improves Sleep
In a review of current research on gratitude intervention on physical health published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, it was found that subjective sleep quality was improved in the majority of studies. Spending just a few minutes right before you go to bed to write down the things that you are grateful may just be an easy practice to help you drift asleep and stay asleep. A calm and grateful mind will allow you to fall asleep quicker, not only that but it could also improve your next day, too. In some studies the data suggested that a gratitude practice that led to better sleep had a positive effect on blood pressure, glycemic control, asthma, eating behaviors and more. This seems pretty intuitive to anyone that has slept poorly and dealt with the consequences ideal, with far less ability to fight the urges to indulge in their poor behaviors. So if you’re finding yourself with a racing mind most nights before bed or always waking up groggy because you struggled to catch some z's, inserting that new habit of gratitude may be better than popping melatonin or a sleep aid. Stack that with solid workouts and diet and you’ve got yourself the recipe for sleeping like your toddler-self did after a day playing around at the park.
When you focus on the negative things in your life, it is extremely easy to feel down. We easily get stuck in a comparison mindset, one that leads to lower self-esteem as we can't appreciate our own accomplishments. “Well my husband cut soda and lost 20 lbs and I only lost 5 lbs”. It makes it easy to see how this can effect others as well. We become resentful towards people that have more, have it “better”, or are “luckier”. We lose the ability to be supporters of those around us that we once rooted for, and create a greater divide in relationships that once were more fulfilling, be that with our spouse, our family, or friends. We tend to be more demanding on ourselves than others, so it doesn’t show up as resentment first, but as disappointment in ourselves that festers and grows. This builds and creates the resentment that undermines us in those relationships... However, keeping a gratitude journal can help you stay focused on your achievements, and appreciative of others so you can show up fully in these relationships - which ultimately, also leads to higher self-esteem! This is even true of those that typically are viewed as having higher self-esteem.
In a 2014 Study in the Journal of Applied Sports Psy. they took athletes into a gratitude practice and found that it increased self-esteem. This is notable in a population of individuals who typically already have higher self-esteem due to higher self-efficacy from overcoming challenges and adversity more often than most. It doesn’t matter where you view your current self-esteem, the practice of gratitude journaling has the potential to improve it and improve your relationships.
Researchers have found that when you focus on feelings of satisfaction and contentment, it will naturally counteract stress. While you will still have to deal with challenges in your life, having an attitude of gratitude will help you better deal with those challenges. In a study researchers found that our stress hormone, cortisol, can be reduce in our bodies on average by 23%. Essentially ¼ of our stress hormone can be taken out of circulation early and often just by practicing gratitude. That means the hormone, among a few others, that when chronically high can lead to depression, digestive problems, heart diseases, sleep problems, weight gain and impair memory, can simply be reduced by shifting our thoughts and mindset towards that which we are grateful for. That is before stacking on the benefits of exercise and proper diet, which also have a huge impact on the hormones that deal with stress! This means gratitude is a simple way to help achieve a happier, healthier life, and maybe lose a few extra lingering pounds along the way.
Better Health & Longevity
Grateful people tend to live healthier lives and live longer than their ungrateful counterparts. In research of nuns, a good population for researching longevity as they have similar lifestyles, diets, and schedules; they found a significant difference in those who scored higher in happiness, and to some extent gratitude. The researchers found that, about 50 some years later in their follow up, 90% of the happiest nuns lived past 85 (years old), and only 34% who scored as the least happy lived past 85. Finding ways to increase happiness not only has the potential to add quality to your life, but quantity. For just 5-10 minutes a day, and all the other aforementioned benefits? I like those odds!
So there you have it, and these are only a few of the many benefits of keeping a gratitude journal. If you aren’t already keeping one, starting today will truly help you live a happier and healthier life. Again, don’t start next week, don’t start when things settle down, there has never been a better time than now to start. That goes for your gratitude journal, just as much as your new workout routine.
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