What 5 minutes of daily gratitude has done for my mental health
You might find a lot to complain about in your day, and in your defense, it’s not really your fault. Our brains are naturally hardwired to concentrate on the negatives. Melbourne writer ED PITTS discovered how a simple daily exercise can rewire your brain, resulting in short and long term mental health benefits.
I’ve always been a bit of a whinger. My chronic complaining has ranged from the big stuff (overwhelming workloads, outstanding debts, insurmountable heartbreak) to the trivial (windy weather, slow internet, bone-dry rosé). It was always something.
Then I heard about Three Good Things. At a family BBQ, my cousin explained that her partner and two young children started saying three things they were grateful for each day at the dinner table. Focusing on positivity was the goal, and great family chat was just a bonus.
And I keep hearing about it. Over the next few months I saw countless articles and posts from journalists, mental health specialists, wellness gurus, and even ex-Bachelor contestants praising the benefits of exercising gratitude.
The goal is to focus on what you have. One of the traps of materialism is that happiness is sourced via shiny new things. Gratitude works in the opposite way from materialism – you concentrate on what you have, rather than what you want.
Gratitude is just one aspect of mental journaling. It’s about taking the time to pause, acknowledge the good things, and reflect on your life – plus make time for yourself. By writing down and/or saying things out loud, you’re able to take a step back and self-evaluate your thoughts, emotions and behaviour.
I felt like a complete idiot the first time I did it. As a 34-year-old man with no prior experience of anything like this, gratitude and mental journaling didn’t come naturally.
I set an alarm until it became routine. I do it before I go to bed with my short meditation, but as long as you find the time to be alone, you can do it at any time of day.
The immediate reward was a smile. While I cringed over my first item of gratitude, I was smiling by the third. The things you list start sticking in your mind – the morning bike ride to work, the friend who checked up via text, the housemate who took out the bins, my physical health, being able to afford a Saturday night out. Work stability. A random compliment. That first coffee.
There are long-term mental health benefits. After a few weeks of practising, I’m finding myself more positive day-to-day, but I’m also better equipped to deal with the spontaneity of life. I’ve been told that journaling and gratitude also help to reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
All you need is five minutes. If you’re busy, you can’t help but look for things that give you the most reward with the least effort. A daily gratitude exercise is a corker. It’s up there with daily meditation as a personal game-changer.
Don’t get me wrong, I still complain. A lot. However, the frequency and magnitude of the complaints are slowing down. It’s easier to pull myself back, and I’m starting to naturally think more about what I’ve enjoyed and am looking forward to.
I’m told the benefits flow into all aspects of your life. Gratitude and daily journaling reportedly improve your social, professional, and home lives. I’ll definitely be continuing to find out if that’s true.
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