HONU to promote health through happiness with Gratitude Walls

NEW ULM — When people think about their health, they often think about their physical health. However, research shows that happiness plays a vital role in overall health as well.

Starting in mid-January, The Heart of New Ulm Project’s (HONU) Mental Health and Wellness Action Team launched a new initiative to help promote health through happiness.

“Numerous studies have shown that by using simple tools to help us retrain our mind to focus on the positive, we can increase feelings of well-being and decrease feelings of depression,” said Karen Moritz, Brown County Public Health Director. “Essentially, it’s learning how to be more resilient as individuals, so that when we’re faced with difficult situations we’re better able to bounce back.”

The first simple tool that the HONU Mental Health and Wellness Action Team’s initiative will focus on is encouraging people to focus on gratitude. “Gratitude walls” have been installed at the New Ulm Rec Center, Hy-Vee and Cash Wise in New Ulm, Schutz Family Foods in Sleepy Eye and Jim’s Market in Springfield. People are encouraged to write down on the walls what they are grateful for.

By showing gratitude toward someone, or taking a moment to personally feel thankful, people relive a positive experience. Gratitude has been shown to help people improve both their physical and psychological health, help them sleep better, improve self-esteem, increase mental strength, and more.

“Changing old habits, especially the way we think, can be difficult,” said Moritz. “Our brains are hard-wired to hold on to the negative, but focusing on the negative can also rob us of the amazing wonder and potential of each moment. Gratitude is about focusing on the positives in our lives, and we invite all community members to participate.”

The HONU Mental Health and Wellness Action Team also encourages people to participate by starting a journal. Research shows that a gratitude journal can increase happiness and improve overall health. Although people may still get angry, frustrated or feel sorry for themselves at times, many people find that the more they practice gratitude, the easier it may be to look at facing challenges with clarity.

“It’s a step toward being mindful of the possibilities we each have and a chance to look for those positive things that are taking place around us,” said Moritz.

The new health through happiness initiative is based on a similar program that was conducted by Allina Health’s Buffalo Hospital called the Bounce Back Project. For more information, visit www.bouncebackproject.org.