I’ll be honest. When I tasked myself to keep a 30-day gratitude journal, I forgot to write in it for an entire week. Writing down something every single day wasn’t a practice I had followed since deep in high school, when I was rage writing my feelings about a guy named Sam who wouldn’t love me even though I wore his sweatshirt during class and dry humped his leg at school dances. Either way, I wasn’t grateful for those things.
I started writing down what I was grateful for in 2nd grade, when my parents gave me my first diary. Then, I was grateful for things like a nice day, good friends, good breakfast, no homework, a warm house, God, and Jessus (spelling as is). Gratefulness at eight years old was a sweet thing. Time seemed limitless and as if it floated above my head to control for eternity. Time was a guarantee, not a gift. I didn’t work very hard for anything. Memories were minimal. Either way, I’m glad my mom sat down with me every night and had me write down what was meaningful for me that day.
Gratefulness at eight years old was a sweet thing. Time seemed limitless and as if it floated above my head to control for eternity. Time was a guarantee, not a gift. I didn’t work very hard for anything.
Now, at 32, long afternoons are drowning in a swamp of to-do lists, doctors’ bills, insurance, emails, and weekends that feel shorter than any of my childhood goldfishes lifespans. When I do have the time to do something for myself, self-care turns into blacking out watching Netflix or shuffling together a face mask and a bath.
But, self-care is more than that. We feel so worried about our outer organs, but what about our insides? I am typing this as I shove a Heggies pizza into my face at 8 p.m.; I still have a lot of personal work to do, but I’m trying.
So, I set out to journal for 30 days straight about what I was grateful for. Now, I’m not saying this was easy. In fact, it was really damn hard. I forgot for an entire week to write, after writing consistently for three days. The one thing I can rely on every day is that I’ll pop my birth control pill, so I had to sync up my “grateful for” time with trying not to have a baby. And guess what! I wrote down one day that I was grateful for that! Some days, I would sit down to write and come up with nothing—and I felt like an ungrateful tool bag. Other days, I would pour my heart out on the page. Somehow, I felt like a kid again, scribbling down nothing and everything.
Now (PSA) I don’t know if this has a DIRECT correlation to my sloppy gratitude journal, but I craved movement a lot this month. I purchased a membership to a gym, so I was feeling the pressure to get what I paid for. However, I felt some ongoing, pulsing energy. Psychologists Dr. Michael McCullough of the University of Miami and Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California published a 2015 study that looked at the physical outcomes of practicing gratitude. Those who kept a daily journal reported feeling more optimistic and physically active. Now! This could make sense. I have a HARD TIME getting to the gym, so if I’m feeling more encouraged and positive, practicing daily gratitude could cure those anxious anticipation vibes.
After a few days of writing, I wanted to get to the core of gratefulness; gut it out like a cantaloupe. Every day, I included my family and friends in my grateful list because my OCD won’t allow me to ever forget about being grateful for them (or they will obviously die!). However, I suddenly craved learning about the minuscule things that make me feel grateful and light. Every day, I made a goal to write down something completely random that I was happy to have in my life. Some items on the list: when my cat bumps his head on my chin, the smell of acrylic oil paints, the lighting on Sundays, the Sex and the City theme song, the Gilmore Girls theme song, the fleeting feeling of gratitude I get when someone I love texts me, and cold ham. You know, the basics.
Every day, I made a goal to write down something completely random that I was happy to have in my life. Some items on the list: when my cat bumps his head on my chin, the smell of acrylic oil paints, the lighting on Sundays, the Sex and the City theme song, the Gilmore Girls theme song, the fleeting feeling of gratitude I get when someone I love texts me, and cold ham. You know, the basics.
Gratitude is addicting. In an article by Daily Health Post, neuroscience revealed how gratitude literally rewires your brain to be happier. When we practice being actively thankful, our hypothalamus fires up. Don’t worry, I googled it. This part of the brain regulates certain hormones critical to emotional responses, body temperature, and survival functions (like sleep and appetite). So, I started to find and crave more ways to get grateful-high. I wrote some random thank you cards to some professional women I looked up to. I told my mom she gifted me a wonderful childhood (AND MADE HER CRY). I was aware of offering the high to others, because in turn, it made me feel complete. Give me all the dopamine, gratitude.
On a normal weekday, change terrifies me. When I got laid off last year from my job, I thought my brain was going to seep out my ears. But after writing down what I was grateful for every day, I noticed an interesting trend. I wrote actively about being grateful for newness and growth. I was grateful for challenges that shaped me in my relationship and job. I was grateful for failure. I was grateful for negative feedback. All of it led me to a better, stronger place.
In the first entry, I wrote, “I kept forgetting how to start this journal because ‘I never had the time.’ I realize why that makes it so hard. I need to make time for these things. Before I started writing, I felt in a panic. Now I feel like I’ve slowed down. I’m grateful for this tiny moment. It made me stop, for no reason aside from wanting to get it all on paper.”
On day three, I wrote, “Today didn’t start off the right way. Nothing happened. It just didn’t, you know? Journals make me vague, yet honest. I’m grateful for: kind people.”
I started to write things down I was grateful for that initially appeared to be conflicting and awful. Talk about a brain spin. For example, I wrote that I was grateful that my job was a challenge and I could learn from the conflict (WHO KNEW?!). Folks, I wrote on day fourteen that I was grateful I poured coffee on my computer because it TAUGHT ME HOW TO DRINK SLOWER AND USE A COVER ON MY COFFEE MUG. Who am I? The Devil’s Advocate Queen? On day seven, I wrote, “Grateful for the doctor’s bill I got in the mail for my first panic attack. Either way, it means I’m ALIVE!” And I learned a lot. I wrote that I was grateful for an argument with my significant other because it taught me how to listen better and find patience in silly moments. Either I’m the most annoying person on the planet or I found the secret to inner peace.
Lasting note: I read on a “Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal” article that you’re not supposed to overdo it. Otherwise, writing in the journal will become a task. The key is to find a reason to write every day and make it effortless. This was the one key thing that kept me going back every day (okay, and the birth control reminder). Stay honest and keep doing it for your inner soul parts. I promise it will be worth it.
Brittany Chaffee is an avid storyteller, professional empath, and author. On the daily, she gets paid to strategize and create content for brands. Off work hours, it’s all about a well-lit place, warm bread, and good company. She lives in St.Paul with her baby brother cats, Rami and Monkey. Follow her on Instagram, read more about her latest book, Borderline, and (most importantly) go hug your mother.
BY Brittany Chaffee - November 30, 2019
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.