The quality of our day arguably starts with what we choose to consume in the morning. And by consume, I mean read, listen, think, watch… although food also has an impact, but that is a post for another day!
What mentally fills this valuable sunrise-time can make or break the entire remainder of our day. If you ask most adults what their mornings look like, there are shared qualities in their responses – cell phones, social media, and probably the news playing in the background. While I am not discouraging the idea of staying current with world events and what your friends and family are up to, I am offering a better practice to participate in during the early morning hours.
Taking time to think of what is going right in our lives offers a chance to remove the veil of the “not enough” mindset. “I’m not good enough.” “I’m not likable enough.” “I’m not smart enough.” Thinking of the good in our life causes us to think less of the bad. This can in turn change our outlook on life, including decreasing levels of depression, decreasing aggravation, and can even improve relationships between couples.
This time of reflection is called Gratitude, the practice of focusing on the good and appreciating what we have received, no matter how big or small. Gratitude has its roots in many religions, but one does not need to be religious to utilize this practice. Many religions include this timeless practice because, like meditation and prayer, it brings believers back to the present. Most people go through their days with the mind focused on what is upcoming and/or what has happened in the past. This leads to unhappiness, both because of never stopping to appreciate where we are, but also because of the stress that is associated with reliving the past and trying to predict the future.
Another beneficial aspect of a gratitude practice in the mornings is not what is adds but what it avoids. By using your mornings to think of all the good in your life instead of scrolling through social media, you are far less likely to compare yourself to others and their “perfect” lives. These thoughts arise from our unfair comparisons of ourselves to those we see on social media, which has been shown to lead to increased levels of depression. There is also a great deal of stress put on our minds by choosing to react to the notifications of our phone so early in the mornings, like email (see #3 from Joanna Kleinman, Ph.D., on this Huffington Post list). Choosing to use a gratitude practice instead of watching the morning news helps the world seem like a kinder place because you are filled with positive thoughts instead of sensationalized stories. Recently higher levels of negative news can have a measurable impact on mental health.
The gratitude practice looks different for everyone, but it shares a few common characteristics:
- A quiet, calm place
- Focus on thoughts
- No judgment for your thoughts or feelings
Some people add in extras like a gratitude journal or meditation prior or post gratitude session to get the mind in the right state. It is completely up to what is best for the individual and may change over time.
My personal gratitude practice is focused around a brief (5-10 minute) time frame, as soon as I wake up. I want the first thoughts that go through my head to be beneficial and constructive, not involuntary negative ideas brought on through social media that can lead to overwhelming and toxic thoughts. Again, the thoughts that happen at the beginning of the day will affect the tune of the rest of your day.
I start by spending time in thought, thinking of one to two new things that I am thankful for that day and why I am thankful. This could be the ability to taste food, or the fact that I have a roof over my head, or even the new book that I get to read. It doesn’t matter how large or small the thing is, it only matters that you recognize how grateful you are to have it in your life.
After I think of the thing, I take time to write it down. Some prefer to do this on paper in a physical journal instead of an app on their phone, mostly to avoid the temptation to click through notifications. If you are able to handle the temptation though, the app I prefer is DayOne. The reason I use this app is for the ability to look back on past years and months and to see what all I have learned or experienced.
So you have the timing, the mindset, and the tools… what else is there to know about Gratitude Journaling?
Consistency. This is the most underrated part of most habits that people attempt to start. Habits take time to build. Habits, like Gratitude Journaling, also take time to demonstrate any benefit to our psyche and mental wellbeing. So stay consistent and the effects of this timeless and invaluable practice will only get more evident the longer that you participate!
I want to know about your experiences with mindfulness practices, like Gratitude Journaling. Leave a comment on this post.
Also, if there are any topics that you want me to write about, leave that in the comment section as well. Until next time, please visit my website to stay in touch and learn more about me (tylerthomas.me).