Imagine the following scenario. It’s 5:45 am in the morning. The temperature outside is -7 degrees Celsius (20 degrees Fahrenheit). Because of lockdown, you face working from home in “loungewear” staring at your web cam on conference calls which fills you with dread. But for now, you are tucked up nice and warm in your bed. Then, slowly you open your eyes – almost afraid to face the day. And you see…..this –
There’s Buster waiting to go out. It’s your turn so there’s no getting out of it. You briefly consider just letting him poop inside but think better of it. You feel your mood start to sour. “My life sucks”, you think. You begrudgingly get out of bed. It is now 6:15 and Buster is whining. Your partner is snoring contentedly behind you and you feel a resentment rising. “If they really loved me, they wouldn’t make me go out in the cold when I have such a busy day ahead”, you think.
Need I go on? Sound familiar perhaps? Over a period of 30 minutes, you’ve set yourself up for a pretty miserable day.
Now let’s replay the scenario.
For the past 8 weeks, you’ve been recording in a gratitude journal. You wake up feeling grateful that you had such a good night’s sleep. You peep out the window to see a beautiful sunrise which makes you feel calm and centered. Having been in lockdown for so long, you can’t wait to get outside for some fresh air. You giggle to yourself when you see Buster waiting patiently by your bed, lead in his mouth, ready to go. “Good morning buddy!”, you say. You’ll need to make haste because you have a very productive day ahead with work projects, several important conference calls in your diary. Your partner is sleeping soundly behind you and you feel blessed to have such a supportive other half. “I’m truly blessed in my life”, you think as you climb out of bed, patting Buster lovingly on his head as you walk to the closet to find your trainers.
Exactly the same scenario. Completely different reactions. The reason for the difference? Your gratitude journal.
Keeping a gratitude journal
Simply put, a gratitude journal is a space for reflection; a place where you can record all the things you are grateful for. But it is much more that that. As our Buster example illustrates, the journal is an effective tool for training your brain to look for the positive in everyday scenarios. Let’s call it the glass half full binder or the lemonade from lemons book.
I recommend finding a notebook, journal or diary that you love. Maybe the pages are scented. Perhaps there is a beautiful scene from nature on the cover. I would personally advise against recording on your mobile device or laptop, although there are many options to do so. Why? Because when you are recording in your journal, I want to take you out of your digital world for just a few minutes every week for quiet reflection. Get away from all of your electronic devices (Yes, you can do this. No, you will not burst into flames without your Iphone for 10 minutes). Let’s go old school and actually write with pen and paper. You can always recycle the paper as you progress.
Once you’ve chosen your journal, you will simply use it as a tool for reflecting upon and keeping track of all the good things in your life. No matter how difficult or challenging life can be at times, there is always something (or a thousand things) to be grateful for.
See if you can commit to spending time every week recording between 5-10 things that you are grateful for. Try not to repeat yourself from week to week as we want to train our brains to look for the positive in our every day experiences.
Why keep a gratitude journal?
As human beings, we are naturally drawn to the negative as part of our survival instinct. For example, if a deadly tiger were getting ready to attack us, our minds need to be very alert to this but if we are walking through a field of beautiful flowers, we don’t need the same focus because the flowers aren’t a danger to us. Keeping a gratitude journal helps train our minds to become more aware of positive experiences we encounter but may not naturally pay attention to.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that gratitude journaling can improve one’s happiness. Indeed, expressing gratitude reduces stress, increases optimism and changes your brain.
The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, published a fascinating white paper in 2018 entitled, “The Science of Gratitude” (link HERE ), which defines gratitude in detail and sets out the physical and mental benefits expressing gratitude can generate. I highly recommend checking out the paper as well as the Greater Good Science website as it contains many useful resources.
So, what are you waiting for? Grab your journal and a nice cup of tea and get recording…