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Need a pick-me-up? Try gratitude

“Gratitude makes it that everything is enough," said Carolyn Ripp, of Nest Wellness Studio in Cloquet.

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Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Carolyn Ripp was a worrier, who struggled with anxiety. “I have that tendency. I think it’s in my genes,” she said. Now, the owner of Nest Wellness Studio in Cloquet describes a daily gratitude practice in which she focuses on the subtleties of the moment.

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Carolyn Ripp.
Contributed / Carolyn Ripp

“I’m able to see. I’m able to hear. I’m able to feel things. I’m able to walk,” she listed. “Gratitude makes it that everything is enough.”

Expressing gratitude is said to help relish good experiences, build relationships and deal with adversity.

Studies suggest practicing thankfulness can decrease anxiety, depression, difficulties with chronic pain and risk of disease while improving sleep, mood and immunity. “Our brains are designed to problem-solve rather than appreciate, and we often must override this design to reap the benefits of gratitude,” according to a story published by the Mayo Clinic .

In a study by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, the psychologists asked participants to write a couple sentences weekly on different topics. One group focused on gratitude, the second group on daily displeasures, the third on neutral events that affected them.

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After 10 weeks, those who noted regular gratitude reported feeling better about their lives. They also exercised more and had less doctor visits than the second group.

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Rhea Owens.

People who engage in gratitude activities are more likely to have greater progress toward goals and experience greater life satisfaction and self-esteem, said Rhea Owens, associate professor of counseling psychology at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Defined, gratitude is both a positive emotion and a disposition, she said.

As an emotion, gratitude is temporary. As a disposition, a person is more inclined to notice and appreciate positive experiences, people and environments.

We can decide if we want to be people of gratitude or look at a glass that’s half-empty, said Sister Jayne Erickson of St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth. Whatever we choose, it affects how we move through the world.

Erickson said she is not wealthy, nor does she have many possessions, but she is rich in friendships and faith.

“Everything we have are gifts. Our relationships, the beauty we have outside, even the tough things we go through,” she said.

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Sister Jayne Erickson.
Contributed / Sister Jayne Erickson

Erickson’s sister has Alzheimer's disease, and Erickson said she works to find the beauty of their shared time together. “I could be very distraught by it and I choose to not be," she said.

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“I believe that I’ve been gifted with her as a family member, as a sister, whom I’ve loved for all these years of my life. Just a simple smile from her or a nod of the head — she doesn't converse anymore — every little moment with her is a moment of gratitude,” Erickson continued.

Asked if thankfulness affects her physical health, Erickson was unsure, adding that she does sleep well and thinking gratefully keeps her tuned into her whole health.

“Taking care of myself becomes part of that," she said. "God has given me this life, this body, this world, to give back.”

Those who intentionally practice gratitude are more likely to experience beneficial outcomes than those who don’t, said Owens.

How to practice gratitude

There are many common and research-supported practices, including focusing on one’s gifts (physical, relational, internal) or acknowledging the awe for your surroundings.

You may become accustomed to different gratitude exercises, so adding variety or adjusting your approach can help. Here are ways to practice cultivating gratitude.

  • List three things/people/experiences you’re thankful for on a daily basis. Level up: Don’t repeat items. 
  • The “gratitude visit”: Text, email or hand write a thank-you note to someone whose relationship you value. Or, thank someone mentally. 
  • Walking in nature. 
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Begin a daily one-two minute practice; or set aside time once a week. 
  • Meditate, listing what you’re grateful for and sensing in the moment: warm sunshine, purring cat, cinnamon spice candle scent.
  • Speaking “thank you” as a prayer. 
MORE BY MELINDA LAVINE
"I’ve been out on that trail. I know what the hills are like, I know what the conditions are like. ... I have so much respect for them," Mallory Cummings of Duluth said.

Related Topics: MENTAL HEALTHWELLNESS
Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346, mlavine@duluthnews.com.
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