Three habits that will improve your mental health – building gratitude, empathy and mindfulness

If you’ve been feeling blue or stuck in a rut, it is possible to feel happier. These three, easy steps can show you how.

In stressful times, many of us can face a variety of different struggles and challenges that are hard not to focus on. We’re not sure what the future holds and that can make us feel unhappy or anxious. But, here’s the good news: where you are – right now – is the perfect place to find happiness and calm, says Hugh van Cuylenberg, founding director of The Resilience Project.

Hugh and his team focus on three effective tools for good mental health: gratitude, empathy and mindfulness – a combination they call GEM. The research is clear, says Hugh: the more positive emotion you experience, the more resilient you will be.

1. Love what you have

Hugh reminds us: “We have so much around us that is great.” Whether it’s grabbing a morning latte, FaceTiming friends, watching your favourite Netflix show or spending quality time with family, pay attention to what you have not what you don’t have, he suggests. Ask yourself, “What is it about my home that makes it a special place?” or, “Who do I feel grateful for today?”

To really wire your brain for gratitude, end each day by writing down three things that went well for you, says Hugh. Backed by research, the evidence suggests that after 21 days of practise you will start to feel a difference in your wellbeing.

dad and two children face timing friends

2. Pay it forward

Really thinking about other people and how they are feeling makes us more likely to perform an act of kindness and that makes us feel good, says Resilience Project facilitator Martin Heppell. Your self-confidence goes through the roof when you feel empathy because your brain releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin, he says.

Ask yourself who you know who is experiencing difficulty at the moment, and what could you do for them? Some ideas are cooking a nice meal for the people you live with, purchasing essentials for a neighbour in need or sending a friend a text or email telling them you care. Maybe you could write a list of 10 people you know are struggling and reach out to one of them every day. The payoff? You’ll get the happiness benefits of your acts of kindness.

dropping off groceries to a person in need

3. Stay in the present

“Apparently we spend 49 per cent of our time thinking about the future,” says Hugh and yet we have no control over that and running through endless possible scenarios can be exhausting. The best way to feel calm and happy is to think about what’s happening as it’s happening, he says.

Spend five minutes outside every day, paying attention to what you can feel, hear, smell and see. Do some gardening, D.I.Y. or home improvement projects, search for craft supplies for a new hobby, or try some meditation. You’ll find some meditation guides on The Resilience Project’s app that also helps you monitor your progress in a daily GEM journal.

If you are concerned about your mental health and would like to talk to someone, Beyond Blue has phone support, a web chat support service and online community forums. Visit or call 1300 224 636.


More information

Take a moment to read up on how to take care of your mental health.


Photo credit: iStock

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Health & Safety

Please make sure you use all equipment appropriately and safely when following the advice in these D.I.Y. videos. You need to be familiar with how to use equipment safely and follow the instructions that came with the equipment. If you are unsure, you may feel it is safest to consult an expert, such as the manufacturer or an expert Bunnings Team Member.

Grave health hazards are linked to asbestos, which may be in homes built up to 1990. Health hazards may result from exposure to lead-based paints in older materials and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page. You can also use a simple test kit from Bunnings to indicate the presence of lead-based paint.
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