“Gratitude means thankfulness, counting your blessings, noticing simple pleasures, and acknowledging everything that you receive. It means learning to live your life as if everything were a miracle, and being aware on a continuous basis of how much you’ve been given.” (Fabrega, Marelisa, 2016. http://www.thechangeblog.com). Susan Krauss Whitbourne wrote “Giving Thanks: The Benefits of Gratitude, why gratitude is good for you” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201005/giving-thanks-the-benefits-gratitude), reports that researchers are finding that there may be many benefits to expressing gratitude including an improvement in physical, emotional, and spiritual health. It seems that focusing on the positive aspects of life promotes psychological well-being and potentially a reduction in psychological distress.
As the holiday season approaches we find ourselves surrounded by reminders to be happy and to enjoy the season of good cheer. Sometimes it can be difficult to find the joy or the energy to celebrate. Sometimes we give in to the desire to hide away and to withdraw from friends and/or family. This year I challenge you to participate in a gratitude journey. This journey will help you to develop a deeper appreciation for the good stuff that does exist in your life and to help you to put things into a different perspective light. “When things don’t go your way, remember that every difficulty carries within it the seeds of an equal or greater benefit. In the face of adversity ask yourself: ‘What’s good about this?’, ‘What can I learn from this?’ and ‘How can I benefit from this?” (Fabrega, Marelisa, 2016. http://www.thechangeblog.com)
According to Louise Jensen, “Turn Pain to Joy: 11 Tips for a Powerful Gratitude Journal” (http://tinybuddha.com/blog/turn-pain-to-joy-11-tips-for-a-powerful-gratitude-journal/), the following thoughts could be helpful as you decide how you want to begin this journey. There is no absolute way to construct a gratitude journal. You do not have to purchase a special book or paper. You can use what you have already. You can choose to share your journal with others or keep it to remind yourself of the journey you are on. You can make lists or note cards. You can write letters or jot down thoughts. You can write in the morning, at night, or throughout the day when the gratitude urge strikes you.
1. Don’t just go through motions. Make a decision to be consciously more grateful.
Don’t reluctantly journal because you think you should. Feel what you write. Believe it.
2. Don’t set yourself a minimum number of things to write per day.
This is a toughie. Many sites will recommend five or so things per day. In my experience, there are days I have less, and that’s perfectly okay. On balance there are days I can fill a page. Don’t put yourself under pressure to stick to the same amount each day. Be flexible and don’t take the joy away by being too regimented.
3. Don’t wait for the right time.
I try to integrate this into my bedtime routine, but if I have a joyful experience, I often write it down straight away. This reinforces the positivity felt and ensures I don’t forget anything.
4. Elaborating on why you are grateful allows you to really explore your feelings.
If, like me, you intend on flicking back through your journal, make it clear why you are grateful for the items you add. For example: For the first entry, I put “my children.” On day two, I wrote, “my children for putting on a sock puppet show after school and making me laugh.” That triggers so many memories each time I read it and always makes me smile.
5. Focus on people rather than things.
As much as I love my iPod, it can never give me the same warm, fuzzy, loved feeling my partner instills by making me a surprise breakfast in bed.
6. Don’t rush; savor every word.
Don’t see this as another chore to get through. The fact that you can make a list of things that make you feel grateful should make you feel, umm, well, grateful!
7. Include surprises.
Unexpected events often elicit a greater emotional response. They’re also wonderful to look back on when you feel that life is mundane and the same old routine all the time.
8. Keep the negative out.
If you want to keep a diary to record how you feel, this can be constructive, but leave your gratitude journal as a purely positive only exercise.
9. Mix it up. Don’t put same thing every day.
Expand your awareness. The more you do this, the more you’ll start to really appreciate what a gift life is. The world is beautiful. Learn to really experience it.
10. Be creative.
Who says a gratitude journal has to be full of lists? Mine contains everything from concert tickets to photos and restaurant receipts. Have some fun with it.
11. Give it a fair chance.
Some experts say it takes, on average, twenty-one days for a new habit to form. Don’t give up or dismiss it as not working before then. Commit to just three weeks and then see how you feel. What have you got to lose?
Do you recall a time when you felt good? What would it be like to wake up and feel good again? If expressing gratitude could help, will you consider adding a gratitude exercise to your daily routine?
Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review (link is external).