Gratitude for previous hard times and our own resilience — the difficult things in our life can teach us what we are capable of and can clarify our values and highlight our strengths. This one can be harder, and there is no need to force it if it doesn’t feel authentic. Remember we’re not grateful for the struggle itself but for what we learned about ourselves along the way.
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 Martha Munroe.
Martha is a trainer, speaker, and wellbeing teaching with a passion for facilitating big mindset shifts and joyful togetherness. Martha lives in Windsor, Ontario, Canada with her family and is currently completing her MSc is Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology at the University of East London, and loves it despite the occasional 5am Zoom meeting.
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?
Thanks so much for having me! My career path, like many people in the wellbeing field, has been anything but straightforward. I first worked in a gym just over 15 years ago, and I remember my manager encouraging me to do my personal training certification, but there was a part of me that hesitated. There was something about the industry and culture that put me off, something that felt a little bit shallow, or sleazy — I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but it didn’t quite jive.
So, I went off to university to do my degree in Liberal Arts. During this time, I kept up exercise and I started dancing. I started to notice how much difference movement made to my mental health, my focus and attention, and my mood. It gets me “out of my head, and into my body,” was how I thought of it. Then I read an amazing book ‘Spark: the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain’, by Dr. John Ratey, and it sealed the deal for me. It was about how exercise has a powerful impact on our brain chemistry and is helpful for so many people including those managing depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc. It connected the topics I was learning about in school in my psychology courses with the thing I did outside of school, and it was the perfect fit.
I was in Toronto at the time and did my personal training certificate, as well as my certifications in Pilates. I worked for a time teaching 6 am bootcamps in the park (Trinity Bellwoods for any Toronto folks), as well as working in a Physiotherapy clinic teaching Pilates. I’m somebody who, when I’m interested in something, wants to learn EVERYTHING so within a year I was taking master’s level Sports and Exercise Psychology courses, advanced anatomy certifications, and basically any other certification I could take. Through the Sports Psychology courses I was taking, I was introduced to Positive Psychology, which is the scientific study of well-being, happiness, and the good life.
By then, I was working in Corporate Health and Wellness, when my husband got a job in Windsor and we relocated. This gave me a chance to re-envision what I wanted to do in my career, and I knew Positive Psychology would play a role. I had been reading every book I could get my hands on, and then I found a 6-month certification in Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) through The Flourishing Center which was life-changing. I knew then that this was the direction I wanted to go in.
I took some time off when my daughter was born and now I’m working on my MSc in Applied Positive Psychology at the University of East London (UK — thank goodness for distance learning!). My research focus will be at the intersection of the physical, mental, and emotional realms and the self-care relationships we have with our bodies.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I think the most interesting reflection comes from working with people from all different walks of life and noticing how, fundamentally, we all have the same needs — to be heard, cared for, to connect and belong. Whether a person is a C-suite executive, or a stay-at-home parent, everyone benefits from empathy, and care. It’s funny, one of the early leaders in Positive Psychology, Chris Peterson, was quoted as saying if you could sum up Positive Psychology in three words it would be, “other people matter,” and I think that is very true.
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?
“Tell me, what is it you want to do with your one wild and precious life?” from Mary Oliver stands out to me and I would add that sometimes, the moment of insight can be knowing what you don’t want. A big focus in my work is moving beyond an aesthetic focus in our relationship with exercise and our bodies, and this can be an important phrase to move away from the body as an object we are always trying to manipulate and perfect, and towards a more positive experience of being in one’s body and experiencing movement joyfully.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?
“The Body is Not an Apology” by Sonya Renee-Taylor is pure poetry. It is a masterpiece guide to how radical self-love can change the world. Everyone needs this book. The world is in the midst of an identity crisis and understanding how the hierarchical systems in the world are founded on hierarchies of bodies and that the path away from that ladder is radical self-love, is powerful, powerful stuff.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My latest project is a course on Fitness Mindset which aims to help people shift their relationship with exercise and their body to a more positive, energy-giving, and sustainable place. It’s a research-informed combination of becoming more aware of the impacts of diet-culture and the benefits of choosing a non-weight centric model of health, and fostering instead the relationship we do want by drawing on core values, strengths, and self-compassion. That and my master’s degree which will focus in a similar area. I sincerely hope it helps people by knowing there is another option in life that doesn’t involve a war with your body.
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?
When I was in Toronto working in Corporate Health and Wellness, I remember having a chat with the COO of the company I was at, who was also a friend, about how I was feeling stuck that my boyfriend was likely to have to leave the city for work, and that I didn’t want to leave because I loved my job and my life in the city, and I couldn’t see how it could possibly work out. I remember her saying to me, “How do you know, that wherever he ends up isn’t actually the best possible thing for both of you?” In an instant my mindset shifted and I could see possibilities I hadn’t been able to before. Her generosity in that moment, knowing that saying that would in fact give me permission to leave if I chose to, was also not missed. In fact, she ended up being exactly right, because that boyfriend is now my husband of five years and our move was for the best. I’m incredibly grateful for the job she gave me, and the empathy that allowed me to move on. As well as an appreciation for the impact of a great question, one that I still remind myself of when things are hard.
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 is mindful appreciation of the things that are going well in our lives. It’s not about being Pollyanna-ish and ignoring the things that are hard, the time for toxic positivity is passed; neither is it about downward social comparison and having it better than others. In fact, true flourishing requires giving ourselves permission to be human with the full spectrum of human experiences and emotions. Even our ‘negative emotions’ have something to teach. Practicing gratitude is simply noticing the good.
Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?
Our brains are finely tuned for noticing threats, and for good reason — they’re trying to keep us alive, but that keeps us stressed out and burned out especially when the stressors are not in our control.
Gratitude is all about counteracting our built-in negativity bias. It’s about noticing and appreciating the good things in our lives as well, which can connect us more deeply to our core values and connect us to a wellspring of creative thinking, meaningful connections, and acceptance of the here and now.
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?
Where negative emotions, narrow our focus like tunnel vision (fight or flight), positive emotional states, including those that arise from gratitude practices, create the possibility of broader thinking, more creative problem solving, and can also build resiliency and personal strength. By paying attention to what is going well, and especially how we can have a hand in creating more of it, we can, to some extent create more opportunities for positive experiences and also heighten our sensitivity to noticing and appreciating them.
Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?
When we think about what we’re grateful for, the content can give us clues about what’s truly important to us, what matters most to us in our lives, namely our values. When we think of what we’re grateful for, oftentimes it’s things like our family, our friends, our pets, having our basic needs, and simple pleasures. When we know what our values are, and live our lives in congruence with them — so for example feeling gratitude for a particular friend and then making time to call and connect with them– we experience a sense of authenticity that greatly fosters wellbeing. Appreciating what we have, rather than getting caught in the comparison trap, also benefits our mental health. And even day to day simple pleasures, like a cup of coffee, listening to music, reading a book and noticing and appreciating that can help buffer us from the stresses of life.
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?
Video Link: https://youtu.be/rV4m34JctFw
1. Gratitude doesn’t require getting rid of other emotions — gratitude can exist alongside grief, sadness, anger, or anxiety — it’s not about getting rid of the hard feelings but about noticing more of the good
2. Gratitude can start with noticing the little things day to day — from a cup of coffee to a snuggle with your pet, noticing and appreciating the little things can go a long way
3. Chose a gratitude ritual that works for you — it doesn’t have to be rigid, find a way to incorporate a gratitude habit that fits your life, such as with family at the dinner table, before getting into bed, or as a way to start each day
4. Gratitude for other people — there are always people who have touched our life in a positive way, maybe your family or friends, or teachers from way back when. This one can have the bonus knock-on effect of inspiring you to reach out and connect with people who matter to you
5. Gratitude for previous hard times and our own resilience — the difficult things in our life can teach us what we are capable of and can clarify our values and highlight our strengths. This one can be harder, and there is no need to force it if it doesn’t feel authentic. Remember we’re not grateful for the struggle itself but for what we learned about ourselves along the way.
Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?
If it feels safe, and you have the space to do so, it can really help to feel the feeling you’re having without running from it and let that emotion run its course. If you need to have a good cry, let it out, if you’ve been holding in your frustrations about the impossible situation you may be in, let the anger run through and know that it’s valid. So many of us are confronting our inner ‘stuff’ at this time, with so much of the outer stuff on hold, while others are doing extremely demanding work in a highly stressful environment. Having the time and space to let those emotions be can be powerful. Talking to a therapist, other helping professional, or a friend who is a good listener can also help, to not have to carry things alone.
When that’s not possible, keeping things super simple and focusing on gentle, basic self-care is always a great foundation.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?
The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor to learn about radical self-love
Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski to avoid burnout
The Gifts of Imperfection (or literally anything) by Brené Brown
The Joy of Movement by Kelly McGonigal
Muse biofeedback meditation headband if you want to learn to meditate
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. 🙂
Know that your body and your mind are not as separate as you think. We can have a lot of influence on our own wellbeing by focusing on the mind, but we are missing a trick if we do not also include the body. Feeling good in your body and taking care of it in ways that are positive can have a tremendous impact on your life.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
I’m most active on Instagram @marthamunroe
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
It has been my pleasure!