Keep a gratitude journal. I’ve kept a gratitude journal for 4 years now. Anecdotally I can share that my patience has improved (just ask my family!) and my ability to manage anxious situations has improved. I published the My Truth Journal to share my practice with those interested in learning the craft.
As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.
What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?
One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sara Salam.
Sara Salam is a published author and career consultant. Her passion is educating, empowering, and entertaining people through content. Sara has published 9 books so far, including two novels, two self-help books, three poetry collections and two editions of a daily guided journal, My Truth. Sara believes facts are facts, but truth is personal. She tells stories about how she discovers the truth about truth, and invites her readers to discover how personal the truth can be. In addition to writing books, Sara applies her 10ish years of HR and recruiting experience by helping her clients create career chronicling content, including resumes, cover letters, and other materials for their professional lives. Connect with Sara at www.bysarasalam.com.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?
My path has been one that is both winding and linear. Professionally, I am a Human Resources Manager turned author, career consultant, and thought leader. I am also an artist and creative producer. For the first ten years or so of my corporate career, I worked as an in-house human resources staff member and recruiter for various companies, primarily in sports (Boston Red Sox, LA Clippers) and startups. A published writer since age 11, I decided to pivot towards my first love of writing professionally in 2019. Today I write books across fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, as well as share my recruiting expertise with job seekers through my career consulting business. Two forks converging!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I became a World Series Champion at age 25. Never, ever, in my wildest dreams would I have envisioned such an experience for myself. It’s one of those life events that makes you remember some things simply cannot be planned, and when they happen to you, to enjoy the ride.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that control is an illusion. Perhaps the only thing we can control is how we respond or react. Control is an inside job.One of my favorite quotes that I wrote from my upcoming book (a fan fiction about Princess Diana) is: “I cannot control how you feel about me, any more than I can control when the sun rises, or that it rises at all.”
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?
Too many books! I really enjoy Yuval Harari and Victor Frankl’s work; they both use nonfiction narratives to illustrate a truth or truths that they believe in. This style is consistent with my own philosophy for storytelling: facts are facts, but truth is personal.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I have a few book projects I am working on, including a self-help book about how to journal and build a consistent journaling habit. I published two editions of the My Truth Journal, which is a guided framework for practicing daily gratitude. I realize a daily practice does not resonate with or is not feasible for every person. So, I wanted to create a guidebook for those who might want to develop and hone the habit, but don’t know where to start or how to create the consistency.
I’m also writing a nonfiction book about labels and language, and how naming conventions and what we call things can affect our perceptions of the world. It’s basically an anthropological commentary on communication and history.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My mom. She saw the artist in me. I am a creative and it’s likely I would have gone a lifetime not knowing this without her as my mirror. She’s the person who encouraged me to apply for a movie critic opportunity with my hometown newspaper when I was 10 years old, which I eventually earned when I was 11. I am eternally grateful for her wisdom, her support, and her love.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?
Gratitude can best be explained by the following sentiment: every day may not to be good, but there’s something good in every day. This is how I encourage people to think about gratitude. In some sense, it’s a matter of identifying patterns or instances of hope. It’s the good we should be grateful for. Marcus Aurelius said, “Our life is what our thoughts make it.” If we choose to think thoughts of gratitude, we will enjoy the benefits gratitude brings to our lives. It’s really that simple.
Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?
In my experience, a common reason so many people do not feel gratitude is simply because they have not learned the habit, for one reason or another. Perhaps they were never taught the skill (it is a skill) or understood the benefits. Habits are routines at their core; some habits we develop on purpose and others we develop out of convenience or necessity. The great news is that habits can be learned and maintained.
I hesitate on referring to gratitude as an emotion. While it might intersect with or correlate to the spectrum of emotion, I prefer to think of gratitude as a mindset that coexists alongside other mental frameworks that shape how we choose to live our lives. Gratitude is an act of mindfulness.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?
Several studies have shown that repeated and rewarding actions centered around gratitude can rewire your brain in as little as three weeks. Keeping a gratitude journal, for example, encourages this rewiring and enhances the benefits. Benefits include increased happiness, greater sense of life satisfaction, and high resilience to stress. Gratitude also improves patience and self-control. One of the most difficult things for people is to how to manage their reactions; it’s a matter of understanding what they can and can’t control and proceeding accordingly. Gratitude helps bridge that gap. Again, gratitude is an act of mindfulness.
Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?
Humans are anxious creatures. Our brains innately predispose us to this behavior as a protection mechanism. This feature of the human brain developed as a survival instinct, and is a remnant of a time when physical safety was top of mind, literally, all the time. Gratitude fosters a feeling of safety. It creates the opportunity for the nervous system to experience a state of peace.
When we are stressed or anxious, our limbic brain (or our emotional brain) takes over and triggers flight/fight/freeze responses. Gratitude allows us to live in the happy moments, which is a form of mindfulness: developing awareness and appreciation of the self and others. Gratitude can also reduce depression and anxiety, lower our risk of disease, and triggers our brains with feel-good hormones like serotonin.
Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?
1. Keep a gratitude journal. I’ve kept a gratitude journal for 4 years now. Anecdotally I can share that my patience has improved (just ask my family!) and my ability to manage anxious situations has improved. I published the My Truth Journal to share my practice with those interested in learning the craft.
2. Say thank you. Showing appreciation for others and their contributions to your life makes everyone happy.
3. Drink more water. Thank your body for being your life’s vessel by fueling it with what it craves most (and what it is mostly composed of.) An aside — it’s a great way to lose weight. If you’re hungry, drink a glass of water. If you’re still hungry, then eat. More often than not we are just dehydrated. Fuel your body with what it craves most.
4. Use your five senses. Focus on one at a time i.e. close your eyes and listen/touch/smell/taste to heighten the sensation. Use your body to feel that you’re alive. This will allow your nervous system to balance itself into a state of peace. Get back into your body.
5. Spend more time outside in the fresh air. I noticed I’m a more productive writer when I write outside. Better quality too. Currently I walk 4–6 miles a day most days of the week. I don’t believe this is an accident!
Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?
Breathe. It sounds rudimentary, but oftentimes we forget our bodies. Our breath helps us regulate our nervous system. If we can manage our nervous systems in a conscious and thoughtful way, we can take our power back and coexist with our pain. Pain and pleasure are not enemies; they are two sides of the same coin. Allowing ourselves to feel and breathe through either sensations is a distinctly human experience and should be embraced.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?
Liz Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love
Glennon Doyle’s Untamed
Hans Rosling’s Factfulness
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
So very Lockean — the greatest good for the greatest number!
My mission is to educate, empower, and entertain through storytelling. Storytelling is uniquely human.
I’ve written three YA books so far. Kids are the future, and their parents are the custodians.
The most valuable skill we can teach children (or anyone, for that matter) is how to ask questions. The way we test kids in school today is, in general, by asking them for the answers. We should be teaching them how to ask the questions. Like on Jeopardy! (Jokes, kind of.) In the real world, the questions of life’s tests don’t have one correct answer. Consider politics, business, environmental issues. We should move away from centering education around teaching the answers, but instead, teaching the questions. This way, when new problems arise, future generations have a better understanding of how to figure our what questions to ask and use their minds to problem solve from there, instead of focusing on being “right.”
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
Sign up for my bimonthly newsletter at www.bysarasalam.com
Follow me on social media @bysarasalam
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!