What Happened When I Actually Started Using My Gratitude Journal
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a notebook fanatic. The lovely journals in the Anthropologie sale section get me every single time. No really — you should see my apartment; I’ve managed to curate quite the collection. But see, the problem is that no matter how much I adored these leather-bound diaries, the pages all stayed, well, blank.
Yet after continuously reading over and over about the life-changing benefits maintaining a gratitude journal can have on one’s life — not to mention happiness — I rallied up my mental troops and made the decision to finally commit. For two weeks straight, I would put pen to paper and jot down what all I was feeling particularly grateful for that given day, no matter how big or small. Pretty simple, right?
Now, in full disclosure: this was around a time I had somehow become swept under the dangerous current of constant complaining, so this seemed like a solid solution to start uncloaking myself of negativity.
I won’t lie — the first few days were a bit difficult, as it felt like yet another thing I needed to remember to do before pulling the curtain on the day. (Sounds dramatic, I know.) But after quickly overcoming that little roadblock, the positive vibes started taking back the reigns of control over my mind. Yes, unnecessary worries would try to pull me down many times throughout my waking hours, but thankfully, I began forming the habit of grabbing my handy-dandy notebook whenever this took place. And over the course of just 14 days, I noticed a total mind-shift.
By actively training myself to focus on the “bright side” — aka the fact that my heart was (and is!) currently beating — I magically transformed my rampant ranting into positive, upbeat praises, all in as little as two short weeks. Now, if that’s not a miraculous mental exercise, I don’t know what is!
While I know the thought of journaling can seem a bit cheesy, I’d be the first to encourage it, especially if you’re in a bit of a funk. There’s something undeniably therapeutic about taking time to thoughtfully consider what all you’re thankful for, even if it’s simply jotting a bullet-point list on the back of a napkin for five minutes or so. As Arianna Huffington wrote in her book Thrive, “Gratitude works its magic by serving as an antidote to negative emotions. It’s like white blood cells for the soul, protecting us from cynicism, entitlement, anger, and resignation.”
Yep, those wise words pretty much sums it all up for me. Oh, but wait. I forgot to mention that while gratitude journaling can boost your happiness and improve your self-esteem, it can also reduce stress. And that’s scientifically proven. Basically, this low-key writing exercise is the ultimate miracle drug that’s completely free and totally legal.
So, interested in starting your own journal?
If you happen to be nodding your head yes, rest assured knowing that I’ll be cheering you on from the sidelines. What makes this exercise so awesome is that really, there are no rules. With no right or wrong way to go about it, you’re free to write just the way you like. But because forming new habits can be rather challenging at times, below are a few tips I’ve uncovered for maintaining a journal.
- Set an alarm to ensure you carve out the time: Whether morning, noon, or night, it’s much easier to stay on the journaling track with the help of an alarm or calendar reminder.
- No matter where you go, bring your notebook along for the ride: Remember how I mentioned unnecessary (read: negative) thoughts would creep into my mind at all times of the day? Well, I was able to zap that nasty inner critic by keeping my journal by my side and focusing on the good, rather than the not-so-good.
- Restrain from setting guidelines or limitations: When I first embarked down the journey of journaling, I set all these goal-oriented guidelines for the process. I’d write at night right before bed; I’d force myself to write down X number of things I’m grateful for, etc. But the more I put in play, the more of a chore journaling seemed to be. (Hence the roadblocks I experienced at the beginning.) Yet, as soon as I freed myself from these limitations, I immediately realized the hype and felt liberated. That said, write when you want to write. Furthermore, write what you want to write, not what you might feel pressured or expected to write. This is your private journal after all.
And hey, if writing or journaling isn’t your cup of tea, that’s totally okay. Seriously, I know a ton of people who just can’t seem to get into this habit. But, as you can probably imagine, there are so many ways to practice gratitude each day. Whether it’s through yoga, meditation or simply shutting your laptop and going for a mind-clearing walk, don’t be afraid to test things out to find the best method for YOU. Trust me, you’ll be on the way to living a much more happy and fulfilling life if you do!
Kathryn McLamb is a writer and photographer on a mission to inspire others to celebrate the everyday. She runs her blog Pineapple Street, and when she’s not plotting her next travel adventure, you can find her wandering the colorful city streets of San Francisco.