Why do I keep a gratitude journal?
Well, in its simplest terms the purpose is to keep a record of things I am grateful for.
What’s the point, you may ask?
That’s a good question. The idea of a gratitude log might seem cheesy, and as though I am expecting every day to be full of sunshine, flowers, an abundance of joy, and people randomly breaking into dance and song in the middle of the street.
Cynical, me? Heck yes.
The past couple of years have brought huge highs and deep lows. There have been days where life has seemed so awful, hope a distant concept, that I wondered what the point of everything was.
Therapy has helped change the way I perceive the world and my experiences.
Keeping a gratitude journal has complemented therapy, as a useful, simple, quick way for me to reflect on my day. To show me that even within a dark day there is a glimmer of hope, that life isn’t completely awful, that beauty can be found in the most unusual of places, and that there is a point to things.
Evidence shows that finding things to be grateful for can improve your emotional and physical health, your sleep, self-esteem, and relationships.
When thoughts stay in my brain, the negative ones can percolate, fester. I find writing things down helps sort out my thoughts, find connections and solutions.
I keep my gratitude log in my bullet journal – I prepare a line per day, with a week over two pages.
My gratitude log has four columns: Gratitude, Wins, Lessons, and Notes.
The gratitude column is self-explanatory, I put in things I’m grateful for.
In the ‘wins’ column I include things I’m proud of that day. There are occasions where what I include in this box might be repeating the contents of the ‘gratitude’ box, but that doesn’t matter, it’s reinforcing a message.
Lessons is about, literally, what I have learned from the day’s experiences. Those lessons can include things that connect with the things I’m proud of from the ‘wins’, such as showing that I can do something I thought I couldn’t. The lessons can also be about something I could do differently, or perhaps shouldn’t have done. It’s vital to note that this isn’t about being negative, or berating myself, but a safe place for me to reflect on life, what is going well, and where I can improve. Life is a constant evolution for us all, isn’t it?
I don’t always complete the ‘notes’ box, but it’s sometimes useful to include a bit of context about what has happened or been going on that day.
There are many days I don’t feel like doing it. That’s ok. It shouldn’t feel like a chore.
That said, as time has gone on I’ve found completing my daily gratitude journal a pleasure, a little way to wrap up the day. It takes less than five minutes.
Would you like to keep your own gratitude journal?
Go for it!
The journal doesn’t need to be anything fancy. You can buy a dedicated gratitude journal if you like, but a diy one using any notebook does the job just as well.
You don’t have to set out the journal in the same way as mine (although you are welcome to). Take a look online for inspiration, or there is nothing wrong with simply jotting down a number of things you are grateful for.
It’s whatever works for you.
Think a gratitude journal isn’t for you?
It can seem a bit flighty, a bit hocus-pocus.
I get it.
It might not seem right for you at all, or it might not seem right for you at the moment. A couple of years ago, when I was in those raw stages of early grief I’d have sooner thumped someone than have done a gratitude journal.
Gratitude is linked to the fashionable concept of mindfulness. Mindfulness is often misrepresented and misperceived. I know I used to get cross with the notion, thinking it was about being happy all the time. Again, the mention of it made me want to thump people.
Being happy all the time is unrealistic, not to mention plain impossible!
Instead, mindfulness is about being in the moment, not spending emotional energy on what has come before or what may happen in the future, but how you are feeling at that moment. It can take time to get your head around the concept, and having things like trauma and depression to deal with probably makes that more challenging. I’d say it’s worth persevering, and finding a mindfulness method that works for you – that’s a topic for another post.
For me, the concept of recording gratitude, wins, and lessons can also be about reframing something – looking at it differently.
For example, how many times have you had a bad day at work? Thinking about that bad day, you’re likely to focus on all of the things that went wrong, the people who were annoying, the deadlines that were missed. Focusing on the negative is natural. The trouble is, it takes up a lot of emotional energy and you tend to replay it in your mind over and over again.
Even a really bad day at work is unlikely to have been completely bad. Perhaps the sun was shining? Perhaps someone went out of their way to help you? Someone might have made you a cup of tea. Your favourite song might have been played on the radio.
Or, if the day really was that bad, and you can’t find anything to be grateful for, you could turn it on its head and say that a win was not thumping someone who was contributing to that bad day, as much as you really really wanted to.
Thumping someone, no matter how tempting it might feel, is never going to end well for you in the longer term so if you resisted that’s a win, right?
And that thought might give you a chuckle. Double win!
A lesson from this example might have been recording what you did to resist walloping the offending person, or what you might do differently to manage the stress or situation in future.
In seriousness, a gratitude journal isn’t a cure for psychological or emotional ills, but a complement to other therapies to help find your way through the fog and/or daily stuff.
Give it a go, see how you find it.
I’ll leave the final word with the eternally wise Professor Dumbledore:
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