There’s a lot in our lives that we take for granted. Sometimes, to the extent that we feel a sense of entitlement towards what we have. What we don’t realize, when we do this, is just how much joy we’re missing out on. To draw an analogy, it’s like not appreciating good health until after we fall ill. Joy lies in acknowledging the little things through a spirit of gratitude.
It’s no secret that there’s a direct link between happiness and gratitude. In fact, positive psychology research, as published in Harvard Health Publications, reveals that “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.” Being grateful helps create a more positive, healthy and vibrant way of life.
What it takes to be grateful, is to simply slow down, take a look around and savor it all. Breathe in the moment, experience it and recognize how beautiful it is. Writing a gratitude journal is a great way to pause and acknowledge our blessings.
If you don’t already maintain a gratitude journal, here are some tips on how you can get started with one.
1. Get a journal
This may, no doubt, seem obvious, but the goal here is to get a physical notebook or journal in which you can record your thoughts by hand. Writing your list will help you approach it with awareness. Give your journal a personal touch, so that you feel like coming back to it each day. Keep it next to your bed and spend around 15 minutes jotting down your thoughts before you sleep. It’s a great way to go to bed with positive thoughts and wake up with the same!
2. Set aside a time
You could turn this into a daily ritual before bedtime, or make your gratitude journal entries once a week. Whatever works best for you. Some days, you might have a lot to write about; other days, not so much. It’s ok to let the journal rest for a day or two, as well. Just make sure you keep coming back to it.
3. Keep it simple
Starting trouble? You could take inspiration from others’ gratitude lists on the Internet, and kick-start your own. Start with what you experience on a daily basis, but perhaps fail to take note of. Here are some examples for you:
· I have people who love me.
· I have access to clean drinking water.
· I am healthy.
· I have a beautiful home.
Remember to keep it genuine. It doesn’t help to write about being grateful for something unless you really feel it with your whole heart.
4. Keep it specific
Once you get into the flow, you must get more specific. So, start finetuning your thoughts, and add a ‘why’.
I am grateful for _______________ because ________________.
Doing this will actually attune your brain to noticing the subtle things.
5. Get personal
You may have started with being grateful for certain things, but you could also focus on the people in your life that you are thankful for. Again, be specific in your gratitude journal about why they make you feel that way.
6. Mix it up
You may notice that you repeat your entries about certain things or people, sometimes. Expand your thinking to include other aspects, other perspectives. To do this, you can categorize your journal entries into:
· A positive quality I have learned from my mother
· Why I enjoy working with my boss
· An old relationship I am grateful for
· My son’s babysitter
· My friend from 5th grade
· Why I love my city
· Why I love my home
· Why I enjoy walking down to my favorite bookstore
· My favorite vacation destination
· Why I still remember my visit to my hometown fondly
· Being silly with my best friend
· An accomplishment at work
· Learning a new language
· A new season
· A family tradition
· What did I appreciate about my school?
· What I loved about my childhood.
· What I look forward to this week
· A call for help from someone in need
· A holiday
· My favorite breakfast
· The game of chess I enjoyed with Dad
· My skill at swimming
· A bright, sunny day
· Autumn colors
7. Look beyond the pleasant
Once you become accustomed to thinking about the details and feeling the warmth that comes from these remembrances, it’s a good time to acknowledge the not-so-pleasant things. Try to look at situations that have been particularly difficult or people you don’t connect well with, and write down what you have learned from them. What life lessons you are grateful for, that came from such situations and people.
8. Get creative
You don’t always have to write. Stick a movie ticket to recollect the amazing time you had at the movies with your partner. Or a coveted family recipe handed down by your grandmother. Photographs work wonders too, invoking a deep sense of gratitude for the places you’ve been, the people you’ve known and the experiences you’ve shared with loved ones.
9. Savor surprises
Did something happen that caught you off guard and brought you a lot of joy? Make a note of it! That’s already doubling your joy and saving some of it for later when you read through your gratitude journal at a later time. It’s also a great reminder that life brings some unexpected delights sometimes.
10. Focus less on what you write, more on what you feel
Thinking about what to write will come easily. Feeling what you write may take longer. So wait for the emotion. You may find that at some point, journaling might begin to feel more like a chore. That’s when you know that you need to slow down again, visualize your gratitude and experience the emotions that flow from it. When you consider all the good things in your life as a gift, you will less likely take them for granted.
Writing a gratitude journal is a personal experience and there is no right or wrong way to do it. Adapt the process to the way you find comfortable, and enjoy the experience rather than treat it as an item on your to-do list. Remember, it’s all about attuning your mind to paying attention to events, people and situations that inspire a grateful heart, and bring you joy.
Do you keep a gratitude journal? What are some of the things you’re grateful for?
This blog post was inspired by My Domaine article.