A few years ago gratitude journals were all the rage. At first I resisted keeping one...too trendy. Then I decided I needed a mood upgrade, so why not? I hated it. Every day I would sit down, think about my day, and try to think of five things to write down. Usually I was pretty grumpy about the whole exercise, and some days I struggled to think of five things. I know this says more about me and my state of mind, than about gratitude journals, but the simple act of writing five things down did nothing for my mental state. In fact, for every thing I did write down, I could usually think of five things I was not grateful for. We were living in an old house, and it didn't have any heat runs from the furnace to the only bathroom. When we were having some upgrades done on the furnace closet, the contractor said it would be very simple to run heat to the bathroom. For weeks that winter, the only thing I was thankful for every day was heat in the bathroom. So why didn't keeping a gratitude journal work for me? Why could I be profoundly grateful for heat in the bathroom, but be unable to think of a few things each day to write down?
An article at The Greater Good (run by the University of California-Berkeley) gives some insight. It reports that research studies show gratitude journals don't always work, so my experience was not unique. In fact, certain things can help you have a better experience with journaling. First, a motivation to become happier is helpful (clearly I was lacking any serious motivation to change my attitude at that point in time). Secondly, go for depth over breadth. Instead of thinking of five things each time, thinking in detail about one or two things you are really grateful for can be more effective. Third, don't feel pressure to write daily. Maybe once a week would work better for you. Lastly, try focusing on people you are grateful for rather than things.
At my current stage in life, I find it much easier to think of things for which I am truly grateful, and often, these "things" are the actions of other people. I am grateful for those who have a positive impact on the lives of my children. I am grateful for the many kindnesses people have shown to me. When I list these things on a very specific, personal level, I feel blessed indeed. And I think I will always be grateful for heat in the bathroom.
Will I ever keep a gratitude journal again? Right now I don't have specific plans to, but I do try to write about things I am grateful for in my regular journal. The exercise of thinking through my week and finding the thing that was a blessing in my life helps me be aware of all the good things happening around me. In a world that sometimes seems dark and chaotic, taking time for gratitude is truly a healing gift.
Do you keep a gratitude journal? If so, what works best for you?
Have a wonderful week living in Thanksgiving!