Active Aging Presented by Public Health Seattle-King County
In a world where it’s easy to count the obstacles and challenges (especially as we age), it’s vital to reserve time each day to acknowledge the positives in our lives. Anything from a surprise phone call with a friend to an extra dollop of whipped cream on that piece of pie can be something worth appreciating.
According to researchers, there is a solid link between practicing gratitude and your social, emotional, and physical wellbeing. As we age, it’s more critical than ever to adopt routines that improve our health, and starting a gratitude journal is one of the more straightforward steps to take. Here’s everything you need to know about gratitude journaling.
Gratitude is the practice of recalling and expressing your appreciation for the good things in your life. Thus, a gratitude journal is a continuous document where you write and store these observations day after day. Having a daily record of what you appreciate in your life is a wonderful way to purposefully focus on the positives in a world where it’s easy to get bogged down in the negatives. Many people who keep a gratitude journal like to incorporate the writing into a daily meditation or relaxation routine, while others prefer to take a mid-day gratitude break to refocus for the afternoon ahead.
The practice of noting and acknowledging what we’re grateful for each day can quickly transform our mental health. Shifting your focus away from negative emotions, like envy or fear, to focus on gratitude means you’re spending less time ruminating over ideas that could generate toxic energy. Researchers at Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine noted that (based on brain scans of various groups in a gratitude-related study) “simply expressing gratitude may have lasting effects on the brain.” The more you actively process gratitude, the more your brain includes that emotion in its decision-making processes. Gratitude begets gratitude!
Gratitude isn’t only about mental health. The link between gratitude and physical health is becoming more apparent with research from experts like Glenn Fox at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. His years of work have led to the finding that “benefits associated with gratitude include better sleep, more exercise, reduced symptoms of physical pain, lower levels of inflammation, lower blood pressure, and a host of other things we associate with better health.” Psychology Today reported on a 2012 study that found that “grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people.” Other studies have found that writing in a gratitude journal can fortify resilience in overcoming trauma and stress.
Beyond general wellness improvements associated with practicing gratitude, the act of journaling itself has many mental benefits. The process of recalling and writing specific events can improve memory and focus. In addition, the routine of daily journaling helps many seniors stick to other essential practices (like sleep, meals, and exercise). Trying new activities, including journaling, can also bolster mental fitness as it activates pathways in the brain that aren’t used for ingrained habits or old skills.
It’s never too late to start incorporating a daily gratitude journal into your routine, and beginning the process is easy!
Start with a goal to write three things you’re grateful for each day. It’s important to choose a physical journal that is aesthetically pleasing as well as accessible. If you have fine motor or vision challenges, select something with wide lines (or no lines at all!) that can open and lie flat to minimize your physical discomfort while writing.
Make sure that you have plenty of light in your journaling space, too. If physically writing isn’t an option for you, don’t shy away from technology! You can type in a special document on your computer or even dictate to your phone.
The best time to write your notes of gratitude for many is in the evening before bed. Focusing on the positives in your life will help calm your mind and body as you ease into sleep. If you find that you don’t have anything to write on a given day, flip back through your journal and re-read past entries for inspiration. Revisiting a past moment of gratitude isn’t cheating! In fact, the repetition will only strengthen that memory and feeling.
Start your gratitude practice today to start reaping the benefits. “Finding a new wellness practice” can even be one of your three items on day one!
Active Aging is presented by Public Health- Seattle & King County. Public Health- Seattle & King County recognizes the important and untold stories of innovation, service, and sacrifice by the Black community and supports efforts to improve equity and achieve social justice. We want everyone to get health insurance and access health care. Visit www.kingcounty.gov/health for health insurance, flu and COVID-19 testing locations.