“Start a gratitude journal”, Emily Lauren Dick and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Start a gratitude journal. Instead of focusing on the things you lack, write down what you do have and are thankful for! It could be as simple as writing down that you are thankful for the way pizza tastes or as profound as writing about how much your family means to you. Revisit your journal […]

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Start a gratitude journal. Instead of focusing on the things you lack, write down what you do have and are thankful for! It could be as simple as writing down that you are thankful for the way pizza tastes or as profound as writing about how much your family means to you. Revisit your journal whenever you are feeling sad or struggling and continue to add grateful thoughts in them!

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 Emily Lauren Dick.

Emily Lauren Dick is a body image expert who is committed to making girls feel comfortable in their own skin. Her book, Body Positive: A Guide to Loving Your Body, is the number one resource for young adult women who desire to redefine and understand true beauty. Emily believes that educating young people about body image, teaching resiliency, and normalizing real bodies is critical in combating negative thinking and improving self-esteem.

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 educational background is in Women’s Studies and Sociology, so I have a passion for understanding social behavior through a feminist lens, specifically body image. When I went to university, I had the privilege of learning about sociological theories, such as the male gaze (the idea that women are objects of male desire). Learning why so many women scrutinize themselves through this lens and simultaneously develop body image issues empowered me to heal personal wounds, become a more critical media consumer, and desire to create my own change.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The most interesting thing to happen to me was my publishing deal with Familius! I am not a doctor, celebrity, or someone with a massive social platform. Today, it’s almost unheard of to acquire the support of a publisher if you aren’t one of those things. I worked on my Body Positive book and photography project for many years and continued to push for this information to be made easily accessible to as many people as possible. To see my book in print, with endorsements from pioneers in the field like Dr. Jean Kilbourne, is simply quite astonishing.

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?

I love the Brené Brown quote, “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” This speaks to my life as a woman because we are taught to be ashamed of our realness, being “loud” or honest about our struggles and our desire for change. We learn that we should be small, literally and physically. The social expectations for women are contradictory. We are told to be assertive but not bossy, successful but not emasculating, beautiful but not vain, thin at all costs but not anorexic. Women live their lives in an impossible situation, where we are criticized regardless of our choices.

We maintain and uphold these unachievable standards when we choose to hide who we are because we feel parts of ourselves are shameful. Choosing to be ourselves is not easy, but just imagine the great things women would do if they weren’t taught that their bodies are the most important part of who they are or to be a lesser version of themselves. A change like this is only possible when women authentically lead the way!

We have the power to create our own destiny when we choose to be authentic, like when I announced that I wanted to create a positive media source to improve body image, despite the fact that I had no platform. Now, I am building my platform upon the idea that it’s okay to be yourself. When I decided to photograph real bodies for my Body Positive book, I wanted young girls not to feel alone. Seeing unedited images of unique bodies allows them to not to feel ashamed of their “imperfections” because others have them too.

Authenticity also played a significant factor in the way I structured my book, which is why I interviewed many women and included their uncensored thoughts on the topics I wrote about. While their understanding of body image is similar, their experiences with it are diverse. It was important for me to be able to share the personal impact of their stories!

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?

The book Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel by Dr. Jean Kilbourne and her Killing Us Softly films had such a significant impact on me. Decades ago, Dr. Kilbourne was fighting the same battle I am fighting today, and frankly, it has become so much worse. Women are expected to be thinner; images are easier to manipulate, and our media consumption has magnified.

Dr. Kilbourne taught me how social norms around gender and appearance are circulated and maintained. Her work made me question the media I consume and inspired me to want to see it change. For me, understanding was both healing and empowering. I wrote my Body Positive book to ensure information about body image reached the minds of young girls so that they, too, would start challenging what they see in the media and accept as normal.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I have two new projects that I am currently working on! The first is a body positive picture book, which will be a great tool for parents to teach their younger children about body image. Some studies have identified children as young as age three experience negative body image issues, so we must start teaching resiliency as young as possible. As a mom to two young children, I feel that there is no better age to start these conversations than when they are first developing their perceptions of the world.

I also recently set up a non-profit called Happy Daughter, whose mission is developing critical thinking skills required for healthy media engagement and body image via digital and print media, such as public service announcements and various free online resources. There will be a very visual aspect to this undertaking, and I am excited to create more thought-provoking imagery to inspire body positivity. The world needs to SEE MORE REAL!

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?

I am so thankful for my friendship with Jessica Camboia, a hairstylist and makeup artist, who I met due to my Body Positive book (she was one of the participants I connected with online). I think everyone in their life needs a person who just completely motivates and inspires them to their fullest potential. Along with my family, Jess helped me stay driven to see this project to completion. She helped me gather participants, offered to do their makeup as an incentive, and was always there to bounce ideas off. I remember walking through a bookstore with her one day, feeling a little discouraged with where the book stood, and she encouraged me to continue looking for a publisher. That same day, I sent a query to Familius, and the rest is history!

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?

For me, gratitude is about being appreciative of what you have. It’s about recognizing the value in things that are often taken for granted and finding the positive amidst difficulty. Take, for example, someone struggling to make ends meet who, instead of feeling poorly about their problems, feels grateful for having a job and a roof over their head.

Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?

Many people experience toxic emotions, rather than gratitude, because we live in a society that constantly compares each other and places a lot of value in material success. Socially, we are taught that success is equal to beauty and wealth. When you watch a movie, listen to a song, open a magazine or scroll through your social media feed, you can be convinced that these are the things that will make you happy. If you cannot achieve them, you might feel that you are inadequate or a failure. It is hard to feel gratitude for certain aspects of our lives because we are constantly reminded that we need to do better, to be better.

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?

If you focus on all that you have and are thankful for, you learn to be optimistic about your life. When you think positively about what you do have, you are less likely to compare yourself negatively against others. This allows us to appreciate others without feeling like we have to compete with each other. Being grateful encourages us to become more empathetic and compassionate people. We can appreciate the success and accomplishments of others rather than focus on how unfair it is that we don’t have what they have. Gratitude may even inspire us to give back to those who do not have what we do.

Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?

It’s important to believe that you have value, aside from your appearance and material possessions, so that you develop high self-esteem and resiliency against social ideals and comparisons. Those who strive to achieve certain standards and only feel good about themselves if they meet those standards are set up to be disappointed. Feeling inadequate or unworthy can contribute to mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

Take, for example, a woman who feels that her value is tied solely to her appearance. If she doesn’t think she looks good enough, then she is likely to be unhappy with who she is as a whole. It doesn’t matter to her that she is a nice, caring, smart person if she only associates happiness with beauty. Failing to achieve beauty standards, combined with other factors, can lead to her suffering from mental health issues and, at the very least, body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem.

Being grateful for what you have or seeing your worth, despite social standards, is crucial for mental wellness.

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?

YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/0V3Cs86rtwM

  1. Start a gratitude journal. Instead of focusing on the things you lack, write down what you do have and are thankful for! It could be as simple as writing down that you are thankful for the way pizza tastes or as profound as writing about how much your family means to you. Revisit your journal whenever you are feeling sad or struggling and continue to add grateful thoughts in them!
  2. Speak kindly to yourself. Stop fixating on what you cannot do or cannot change and start thinking about the things that make you so great! It’s important to focus on non-physical traits to remind yourself of your positive qualities. Here are a few suggestions; intelligent, humorous, compassionate, helpful, reliable, determined, honest. Write these down in your gratitude journal so you can remember them.
  3. Support and positivity. There is no shame in getting support for issues you are struggling with. If you constantly feel bad about yourself, angered by what you don’t have, sad or unmotivated to live, you may need professional help. Alternatively, you may just need to find someone you trust to talk about your self-doubt or insecurities. Knowing you aren’t alone in your struggles can be very impactful. Self-help books are a great place to help you start understanding your feelings! Surround yourself with helpful resources, such as inspiring and positive social media accounts.
  4. Help others. Giving back and helping others is a great way to feel good about yourself. It can also help you feel a sense of purpose and connection to others. Encourage and compliment others because making someone happy makes you happier!
  5. Turn failures into success! We need to look for the positives in NOT achieving something. Of course, it’s disappointing not to get the outcome we hoped for, but failures also lead to new opportunities or strategies. It helps us build resiliency, gives us redirection, and can be an opportunity for growth. Look for the positives — did you learn something new? Did you find out that you don’t enjoy doing something or want to pursue a different path? Anytime you can turn a negative into a positive, it is a good thing!

Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?

I am a firm believer in therapy for when you reach the point where you feel completely lost in your appreciation for life, ashamed or disappointed with how things are going. When you get an unbiased perspective and validation of your feelings, it can feel like a weight is lifted off of your shoulders. It allows you the opportunity to feel grateful for what you have without feeling guilty for experiencing normal negative emotions.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?

My book, Body Positive: A Guide to Loving Your Body, is an excellent tool for young women who struggle to appreciate their bodies. It is full of real body images, inspiring quotes from real women, and introspective questions to inspire the redefinition of beauty.

I also really love many of the books that Brené Brown has written on authenticity, empathy, and navigating shame because they are both helpful and inspirational.

There are several social media accounts that inspire body positivity and mental wellness. Here are some of my favorites: @realhappydaughter (that’s my account!), @thebirdspapaya, @laurajaneillustrations, @thenutritiontea, @thebodylovesociety, @sassy_latte, @tiffanyima.

There are also several platforms where you can easily access virtual therapy, such as Better Help, which I highly recommend because of its convenience.

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. 🙂

I would love to start a movement where advertisers could no longer use manipulated images and are mandated to use diverse images of people. I think seeing a variety of body types and physical features would make many people feel happy with their own appearance, and this happiness would funnel back to the many different aspects of their lives.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

My Instagram account @realhappydaughter is the best way to follow my work online!

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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