Scroll through Rachel Walters’ Instagram page, and you will find a detailed online public diary about her life. Unlike typical Instagram accounts, this one is dedicated solely to expressing gratitude.
Between hectic schedules and constant schoolwork, it can be easy to get hung up on the unfavorable aspects of student life. However, some students are taking an unconventional approach to mentally unpacking their restless days through online gratitude journals.
Walters, public relations and sustainability studies senior, posts a collage of pictures from her day with a caption detailing positive moments and experiences. From taking a quick nap midday to eating bagel bites, Walters highlights the things that brought her joy that day.
“(Journaling) definitely forces me to reflect on each day and take the time to be grateful for even the smallest things,” Walters said. “It really gave me the chance to realize things in my life that I love.”
For some students, a gratitude Instagram helped them shift away from persistent feelings of negativity during the school year.
When she found she was spending too much time on her “finsta,” neuroscience senior Neha Muraly decided to redirect that energy to updating her gratitude Instagram instead. Contrary to gratitude Instagrams, “finstas” are an outlet for students to post more private things they wouldn’t normally post on their public accounts.
“I realized my finsta was toxic to me. It was only perpetuating all the negative feelings I was having because I was almost seeking out those negative feelings so I would have something to post,” Muraly said. “I started a gratitude Instagram in December 2018 to instead make me focus on the positive things around me.”
Aside from just causing a shift in mentality, daily practice of gratitude can have a variety of other positive effects on a student’s mental health. Caryn Carlson, a UT psychology professor specializing in well-being, said writing about gratitude can have many benefits.
“Accumulating research finds that gratitude is one of the strongest (correlations to) well-being,” Carlson said. “Feeling and expressing gratitude can increase self-esteem, optimism and happiness, enhance empathy, reduce anxiety and even improve physical health and sleep.”
The expression of gratitude can also help uncover the silver lining in a difficult time, Carlson said.
“Gratitude can help people deal with stress and adversity perhaps because it fosters a coping style which leads to positively framing or reinterpreting some aspects of negative life events,” Carlson said.
Walters said she noticed these benefits in her own life after just a few months of consistent posts about daily gratitude.
“It’s impacted my mentality a lot,” Walters said. “I know I am documenting my gratitude, (so) I usually go out of my way to do things I love and enjoy so that I will have more things to be grateful for.”
Using a gratitude Instagram has instilled a new form of self-care in the daily routines of these students. Muraly encourages students to dedicate time out of their day to practicing personal gratitude.
“We all get caught up in the stress of classes, comparing ourselves to others and constantly striving to be the best — succeeding and failing,” Muraly said. “It’s good to take 20 minutes in your busy day to write down the things you’re grateful for or the things that make you happy.”