Author Laura Smith: How Each of Us Can Leverage the Power of Gratitude to Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness
Name one thing you’re grateful for first thing when you wake. This could be something on your calendar that you’re looking forward to that day, someone you’ll get to see that day. It can be as basic as you got to sleep in, or your pillow is soft, or your allergies seem to be better in control today–anything. It starts your mind in a happier, calmer state as you begin your day.
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 Laura L. Smith.
Laura L. Smith is a popular speaker and best-selling author, Smith speaks around the country sharing the love of Christ with women at conferences and events. She lives in the college town of Oxford, Ohio, with her husband and four kids. Learn more about her at: www.laurasmithauthor.com
Our Daily Bread Publishing is a division of Our Daily Bread Ministries — a non-denominational, non-profit organization with staff and volunteers in over 37 offices working together to distribute more than 60 million resources in 150 countries. Whether it’s a radio broadcast, podcast, book, mobile app, or website, they provide many ways to help people grow in their relationship with God. For more information, visit OurDailyBreadPublishing.org.
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?
Hi! I’m an author, mom of four, happily married to my Prince Charming, living in the beautiful college town of Oxford, Ohio filled with brick streets and ivy.
I’ve always loved books! As a little girl I couldn’t wait to go to the library and check out stacks upon stacks of books–all of which I’d devour. In high school and college English was my favorite class. I couldn’t wait to read stories, write stories, and get critiques back from my teachers and professors, so I could improve my writing skills. To me, the coolest thing anyone could ever be was an author. And because it was the ultimate to me, I thought I could never actually be such a wonderful thing.
I graduated with a business degree in marketing in college, worked for a major shopping mall company in marketing and leasing, and when I was pregnant with our first baby, my husband asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”
This seemed like a ridiculous question. Weren’t we already “grown up” with our jobs, house, and a baby on the way? I confided in him that I’d always wanted to be a writer. I’d never told anyone before out of fear of being laughed at or discounted. Maybe I finally told Brett, because I’d already taken another path–there was no risk in sharing now.
But my husband encouraged me, “Why don’t you write?”
I gave him a thousand excuses why not. But Brett shot each excuse down.
With all my excuses squashed, I started writing.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I got my first three novels published without an agent, website, or social media presence. This is so contrary to how the system works, but I was blessed and grateful. When my publisher stopped publishing fiction I hit a brick wall.
I had to find an agent. Which is. A. Process.
And after finding an agent, working with her for awhile on multiple projects, it didn’t work out. We weren’t a good match. I like to tell people that “we broke up, but we’re still friends.”
Then I went through a four year period where I had nothing published. Those four years were l-o-n-g! They were full of rejections from agents and publishers. I doubted my purpose. I questioned if I should even keep writing. But every time I felt like giving up, someone commented on my blog that it was just what they’d needed that day or someone sent an email saying they’d really enjoyed one of my books. I felt like God was giving me little reminders that He had created me to write, that I should keep going. During that time period I wrote four manuscripts, networked like crazy, met wonderful, encouraging and talented people in the publishing world, and honed my craft.
This desert period was so hard to travel. But through it I learned so much and truly believe God used that time to make me a better writer and also to position me for what He had next.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?
Just before I entered the writing drought I shared about, my previous publisher sent me a copy of the Message translation of the Bible (which they publish) for Christmas. The way the words the ancient Bible texts are translated in the Message paraphrase is so personal, so relevant. Reading those pages, I felt like God was encouraging me to keep going, to keep writing, that even though I didn’t feel qualified, He had purpose for me, plans for me, that He would never give up on me.
This Bible landed on my desk exactly when I needed it most. On my darkest days this Bible kept me going. It reminded me who God created me to be. It reminded me why I write in the first place. And so I kept writing. I’m so grateful! My eleventh book releases in July with two more under contract for the coming seasons.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I have a new book releasing July 5, 2022 Restore My Soul: the Power and Promise of 30 Psalms. I think we could all use a little soul restoration.
In the book I dive into how to find rest and peace and joy–even in tough circumstances. I talk about feeling all your feelings, and how the God of the Universe loves you as you are in all those feelings. He longs to bring you joy, hope, love, and grace, to restore your very soul.
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 husband Brett is my biggest supporter. He’s the one who nudged me to start writing in the first place and dismissed all my excuses. He’s the one who told me I could do it. When I got my very first short story published the editor posted a list of acceptances on their website. Brett saw it before I did and called me over to his computer. He had tears of joy in his eyes as he showed me my name–that I’d done it. I’d written something and gotten it published.
In my tough season, when I was full of doubt and the only thing I was “publishing” was my blog, Brett would ask, “If one person was encouraged or inspired by your blog this week, was it worth it to write?” I’d always nod, because it would have been worth it for that one person. Brett’s encouragement gave me the fuel to write the next blog. And then the next.
Brett still cheers me on, listens to me as I brainstorm ideas and chapters and books. He celebrates every win and encourages me through every rejection. I honestly wouldn’t be still writing if not for the love and support of my wonderful husband.
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 pausing to acknowledge that you are thankful for something.
This can be anything. Practicing gratitude can be as simple as wrapping your hands around your warm coffee mug in the morning and letting some of that warmth seep in. Taking that first sip and saying, “Wow, that tastes sooo good.”
Being thankful is easy. The more we practice gratitude the more we see and recognize what we have, instead of what we have not. The more we practice gratitude the happier we feel, because we notice things to be happy about and appreciate them even more.
Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?
We live in a world of bigger, brighter and more.
You graduated from college? Super. Did you find a great job? What’s the next level you can aspire to?
You started running? Good for you. How fast do you run? How far? Can you quicken your pace? Increase your mileage?
You bought a home? Amazing! Are you going to redo the counters? Get new sinks?
You won a Grammy? Cool. When will you have a new song releasing?
There doesn’t seem to be a cap on enough. And so, we’re always looking at the next, instead of savoring the present. But this present moment is the only one we have.
I’m all about dreaming big dreams and working toward goals.
But also, we need to sit back, pause, and be thankful for all we have today. None of us know what tomorrow will bring. But this moment now? It’s yours and mine to make the very most of it.
If you spent the time to prepare a meal or spent the money to dine out, sit down, eat it slowly, enjoy the flavors.
If you’re going for a walk or grabbing a glass of wine with someone you care about, put your phone down, be present in the moment enjoying the way that person makes you laugh, or how they listen, or their fantastic point of view.
Feel the sunshine on your skin. Or the breeze. Or a drop of rain.
You get the idea.
The world is truly a marvelous, beautiful, exquisite place. Sure, some of it is messed up and broken, but there is so much to explore and enjoy. We’re often so busy going on to the next and the next that we forget to marvel and appreciate where we are right now. And as a result, we miss out.
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?
Gratitude is scientifically proven to make us happier, amplify our positive emotions, improve our physical and mental health, and strengthen our relationships. Who doesn’t want to experience all of that? What are we waiting for?
Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?
Practicing gratitude has proven to reduce anxiety and depression. Your brain literally can’t experience anxiety and gratitude at the same time. Being thankful for something stops those negative spiraling thoughts.
Practicing gratitude also improves relationships. Stronger relationships help with overall mental health, because they give you a support system, people you can count on, people who will check in on you, people to talk through your problems with.
Being thankful improves your physical health–it can lower blood pressure, improve your sleep and increase your immunity. Improved physical health and better rest also equate to better mental health.
It’s truly amazing how good being thankful is for our bodies, minds, and souls.
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?
- Name one thing you’re grateful for first thing when you wake. This could be something on your calendar that you’re looking forward to that day, someone you’ll get to see that day. It can be as basic as you got to sleep in, or your pillow is soft, or your allergies seem to be better in control today–anything. It starts your mind in a happier, calmer state as you begin your day.
- Journal. Journaling is an amazing way to process your feelings and a super cool way to practice gratitude. List five things you’re thankful for each day in your journal. It helps establish a pattern of practicing gratitude on a regular basis. I find when I do this I can never stop at five things. We tend to have short memories. Once something good happens, we might be thankful in the moment, but move on quickly to the next worry or concern. On days when you’re stuck, you can flip back through the pages of your journal and notice how much fun you had on a trip a few months back or that time you grabbed lunch with that special friend. You can be thankful again for that relationship or that you had the opportunity to travel to that place. You can re-read the days you journaled about a health scare or a horrible job situation you were in and remember, oh my goodness, the results came back negative or I’ve been in my new job for months. I am so blessed to be healthy! Or, I’m so grateful for my new job! Journaling helps us remember all the things we have to be thankful for!
- Go outside. The world is full of wonder. Smell a lilac bush–they smell fantastic right now! Toss a whirligig (the seeds from oak trees) in the air and marvel how it spins like a helicopter to the ground. Soak in the beauty of a sunrise or sunset. Listen to a bird’s song. Be thankful.
- Thank somebody for something they’ve done. This could be as simple as a text telling someone, “thank you for being my mom,” “thank you for being my friend,” or something more specific, “thank you for supporting me during that call yesterday,” “thank you for bringing the trash cans in.” Send an email to a teacher, coach, or principal thanking them for how they handled a problem at your kids’ school or team. You could call someone or write an actual handwritten note in the mail. The action of thanking someone will make your heart appreciate something that person did for you while bringing that person the joy of being acknowledged .
- Before you fall asleep, state something you’re thankful for that happened in your day–something you ate, a song you heard, a canceled meeting that gave you more time to get something else done, even if you’re just grateful that you got through a rough day, that’s something to be thankful for.
Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?
Sometimes life is harsh and we’re exhausted or hurt or sad or full of worry. In those times it can be tricky to feel thankful. I recommend treating yourself to things that make you thankful when everything else seems to be a mess. It empowers you to feel like you can do something. And who knows better about what makes you happy than you?
Some things I do for myself are light an exquisite smelling candle, play some of my favorite music (but not the sad stuff), pick flowers from my yard and put them in a vase where I can see them, treat myself to yummy smelling hand soap and every time I wash my hands make sure to smell it. Then I’m thankful for the smells, sounds, and sights of beauty.
Or I might do an action that will make me happy–like go on a run in the woods or bake chocolate chip cookies. Then I can be grateful for nature, a body that moves, the smell and taste of homemade cookies (and cookie dough–yum). It’s really the little things that make life so grand. Don’t wait for someone else to do something to make you grateful, do something for yourself.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voscamp
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
Looking for Lovely by Annie F. Downs
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 long for every single person to know how much value they have! That their voice needs to be heard, that their opinion matters, that they make a difference in the world.
Gratitude is such a wonderful way to make this happen.
If every person posted once a week on social media something they’re grateful for, it would empower them to express their opinion, to embrace more of who they are, and to celebrate what they do.
You love spicy tacos, going to the opera, growing fresh vegetables, doing yoga, creating beautiful graphics, going on walks with your dog, whatever? Those things matter! Posting about them reminds you that you have interests and talents that are cool and worthy, things that you’re thankful for. This strengthens your gratitude muscles and reminds you of your self worth at the same time.
Posting about things you’re grateful for also helps others appreciate the unique gifts and nuances of others. I don’t like spicy foods, and I’ve never been to an opera, but if I see you post about them, about why you adore those things, I learn something new. I appreciate you and your complexities more. I might even be inspired to make some fresh guacamole or listen to a little opera on Spotify. And if I don’t like it I can always switch back to some indie folk that also puts me in a good mood.
Seeing you post about something interesting at your work might inspire me to post something interesting at my work. Now we’ve both learned something about each other’s trades and I’ve found something I’m thankful for about my job. It’s this cool beautiful circle of how we can be thankful for what we have, for who we are, and encourage others to do the same.
Ready? Set? Go post something you’re grateful for! Remember to use #gratitude #grateful or #thankful to spur on the movement.
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Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
*Any claims I made about mental health are commonly known and proven. But some sources I used for scientific backup to my claims are:
The Mental Health Benefits of Gratitude
You may have heard the saying attitude of gratitude. It's a great little rhyme to remind us that we live a life of…
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!