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Self-Care Strategy: Gratitude

You may have noticed that I have taken a hiatus from publishing weekly blog posts recently. Since the tragedy in Parkland, FL on 2/14/18, my mind and my body have been craving more time for self-care. In an effort to accommodate this fundamental need, I had to take an honest look at how I have been spending my time and decided to prioritize what is truly necessary. Unfortunately, my weekly blog posts were one of the things I had to let go of in order to prioritize self-care.

You’ve heard me talk about self-care over and over again in multiple blog posts. By now, you are probably aware of how important it is to set aside time in your daily routine to consciously focus on taking care of you. I hope you understand that this break from blogging is necessary for me and see it as an invitation to take an inventory of the things in your life that may be affecting your ability to prioritize your own self-care as well. Give yourself permission to take a break, when necessary.

I try to keep myself accountable to practice simple self-care strategies on a regular basis. One of my goals for 2018 was to share these strategies with you once a month. While I am committed to continue sharing these self-care strategies with you once a month, other blog posts will be published less frequently. Since taking this break, I have been reflecting on the importance of acknowledging and expressing gratitude on a regular basis and, this month, I have decided to share some simple strategies for practicing gratitude with all of you.

Gratitude Journal

According to Arthur C. Brooks of the NY Times, “For many people, gratitude is difficult, because life is difficult. Even beyond deprivation and depression, there are many ordinary circumstances in which gratitude doesn’t come easily.” Can you think of any times in your life where being thankful and appreciative did not come easily for you? Perhaps it’s more challenging after an argument with a family member, or when your child gets sick, or when you turn on the news and all you see is devastation.

There is an invisible barrier to practicing gratitude that all of us face every day and it’s called the negativity bias. The negativity bias is the innate tendency to notice and hold on to negative things over positive things. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Remember the conversation you had with your boss last week? Where she told you three things you were doing really well and one thing you could improve on? What was the thing you remembered most about that meeting? I bet it wasn’t the compliments.

A long time ago, when we were a society of hunters and gatherers this negativity bias served us well – it’s how we survived as a species. We were aware of predators and other threats to our survival before they happened and responded proactively. Nowadays, when most of us have access to shelter, clothing, and food on a regular basis, the negativity bias no longer serves the same purpose. Instead of helping us to survive, it’s affecting our ability to truly appreciate and enjoy all that life has to offer. We must consciously choose to notice and appreciate the positive things in order to counteract this evolutionary negativity bias. This is where gratitude comes into play.

Research has found that people who are consistently grateful are happier, more helpful, report more meaningful connections with others, and have a greater ability to cope with stress and trauma. Who wouldn’t want to reap those benefits? So, how exactly do we practice gratitude? The good news is there are many ways to do this! Here are a few of my favorites:

Gratitude journaling

Keep a small notebook by your bed and each night before you fall asleep, take some time to reflect on your day. Write down the situations, things, and people that you were grateful to have encountered that day. If you want to take it one step further, write down why those experiences were meaningful to you.

Send appreciation messages

Tell the people you care about why they are important to you. Take a moment out of your day each morning to send an e-mail, text message, letter, or phone call to someone that you appreciate and let them know how much they mean to you. A simple, heart-felt “thank you” can go a long way.

Start a grateful project

I recently watched a TED talk called 365 Grateful Project, by photographer Hailey Bartholomew. If you have 12 extra minutes to spare today, I’d highly recommend watching it yourself (find it here). She further explains the importance of practicing gratitude on a regular basis and how doing so changed her life. I was inspired by Hailey’s project, so this month, I have started my own grateful project, called Grateful 31. Like Hailey, I have been photographing one thing I am grateful for each day. We are less than two weeks in and, already, I am noticing some themes in my photographs and have started to seek out experiences for which I am grateful over those that leave me with less positive feelings.

Whether or not you choose to make a conscious commitment to integrate a gratitude practice into your life is up to you, but if you’ve made it this far into today’s blog post, I will challenge you to find and express one thing you are grateful for today. This simple practice can truly do wonders for your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual heath and I encourage you to find a way to build gratitude in your daily life in a way that works for you. As Hailey Bartholomew wisely pointed out, “you find what you are looking for.” So, start looking for the good things and begin to truly appreciate the world around you.

If you’re ready to take your recovery journey to the next level, feel free to contact me to schedule a free phone consultation to learn how I might be able to help and check out the events page of my website to register for an upcoming self-care workshop or hike!

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