Yoga and meditation can be extraordinary tools for mental health. But what other tools are available to us off the mat?
Recently, I found myself giving advice to a close friend going through tough times. My mind quickly gravitated to a passage on gratitude in one of my beginner Buddhist books. I acknowledged my friend’s pain, but suggested that he focus some energy on the good, “Before you start your day, take a moment to think about one nice thing in your life, something that you’re thankful for.” I’m not sure how helpful my pep talk actually was but it did leave me thinking about gratitude’s link to mental health.
According to an article in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, “gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what one receives, whether tangible or intangible; a feeling that helps people to acknowledge the goodness in life”.
In Buddhism mindfulness and gratitude cultivate one another. Being mindful of ourselves and of our surroundings is the best state in which to learn to appreciate the small pleasures. Interestingly, Buddhist belief suggests that we try to develop gratitude for life’s sorrows and challenges as well; it is only after experiencing difficulties that we are able to become more compassionate beings.
Professors at the University of California Davis and at the University of Miami found that a group of individuals who’d been instructed to write things for which they were grateful for daily, had been significantly more optimistic than those who’d been asked to write about things that displeased them. The gratitude group also exercised more and had fewer doctors’ visits than those who had focused on sources of irritation.
At first glance gratitude as a tool for mental health can come off as cliché, but I am committed to giving it a fair shot. Here are some easy ways that we can all practice gratitude in our daily lives:
Write a letter or thank you note
Writing cards is one of my favorite ways to thank others for making me life a little brighter. If you don’t like cards, send an email, a letter or nice text to someone that you’ve been thinking of!
Thank life for your people.
Just thinking about someone for whom you are thankful for can have a profound effect on your mood. A friend of mine recently walked le Chemin de St. Jaques de Compostelle and explained that she had dedicated each day of her long walk to a human in her life. What better way to walk to a bus stop or back from the grocery store than to reflect on your loved ones!
Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down one or two things for which you are grateful for each day. Write about experiences that were difficult but made you stronger.
Pray. Whether you are religious or not, giving the universe a little shout never hurts.
Meditate. On and off the mat strive to practice mindfulness. Focus on gratitude for the small but pleasant things like the sun’s rays after a set of rainy days in Vancouver!
Whatever your method, make sure to give daily gratitude a try and get started on your path to a healthier you!