Keeping a gratitude journal and being mindful has been an ever-growing constant in my life over the past three years and I regret I didn’t pick up on it earlier. I have always journaled – this blog was a result of such and if you ever dug down deep enough through the 800 or so posts you would know the open and painfully honest words that this blog holds. The gratitude and to consciously be aware of all the things that am truly fortunate to have, come from meditation. I have written here briefly about how it has benefited me and also here’s a feature on the lady who introduced me to meditation.
Benefits of the practice of gratitude:
Make note of the fact that I said “practice”: coz this isn’t a quick fix or a short-term exercise. As with any other successful results in life, practicing gratitude is also a muscle that needs to be worked and strengthened. With repeated usage, it gets strong and can support and hold you.
Here’s how it’s helped me over the years:
- Gratitude made me happier – The more I gave thanks, the more I received. Yes, having more money/things can make you happy but there is a time when that happiness levels off. There is a hedonic adaptation at play with tangibles mostly, which essentially means that repeated exposure to an emotion only lessens the experience of the said emotion.
- Gratitude made me like myself more – While some of us don’t struggle with this, most of us do. We are extra critical of ourselves, extra harsh and judge ourselves at a higher bar than we would with others. Being grateful made me like myself for who I am, appreciate my gifts and what I am capable of and accepting of my flaws and seeing them for what they are.
- Gratitude strengthened my positive emotions – Once I was accepting and mindful of who I am, it only made me feel less unsettled and deal with those negative emotions in a more straightforward way. The frequency reduced coz I was slowly gaining control over my emotions and bouncing right back to that neutral grounded place of acceptance and mindfulness.
- Gratitude helped my relationships – I was and am still more of a loner and usually have for the most part kept to myself. There is this thing called a social introvert, and I fit the bill. I tend to not get close to folks, and when I did, I didn’t know where to balance it. I have developed the immense courage to be able to let go of ones that were not good for me and build stronger and equal relationships with ones who mattered on an even keel. This, to me, has been my biggest growth and I couldn’t be more at peace.
..and then there are a few others, but the point is that it’s been such a cumulative slow change, that you wouldn’t realize it unless you look back.
That is also where the gratitude journal comes in. Though I must admit I got started on journaling gratitude at a much later time, I do swear by its benefits. I reached a place of gratitude through meditation. One can also arrive at this place by everyday journaling, and by especially paying attention to what one is thankful for.
How to keep a gratitude journal
Now, writing every day can become a daunting activity, especially since we are always rushing from one activity to another, so here are a few ideas that have worked for me:
- Keep it simple: As fancy as you can get on that gorgeous journal with colored paper and tabs and stickers, sticking to a simple book removed all the fluff. It allowed me to focus just on my thoughts & writing them down. I somehow do not think the benefits are the same if you go digital. The act of using your fine motor skills in conjunction with your thoughts added to the visceral paper is a meditative process that adds value. Pen and a book is what worked for me and that would be my advice to you too.
- Find a time that works: Just before bedtime worked best for me. I tend to unwind with a book before I sleep. I realized that my days aren’t very scheduled or the same, but the one constant was that when it was time for me to sleep, I would go upstairs, brush my teeth, change, slather some night cream and get under the covers (with my dog) and read. It was the best time to add that in as a routine and not forget, and also a time to reflect on the day that went past.
- Reflect deep, not broad: When I started getting munchkin into it, she complained one day that she couldn’t find anything to be thankful for. It did make sense, coz it takes time to appreciate the small things. We are intuitively looking for grand gestures and pluses that happened in our days to be thankful for. It’s only when I asked her to start drilling down and drawing parallels to others’ life situations that she started noting the intangibles. Reflect deeper, into why you are grateful, and how that particular quality/attribute makes you feel and the ways it has added value to your day/life.
- Keep it direct and short: Stick to a style that works for you. Initially, I would meander and write long stories on the where and why and how and lose track of the essence of why I was writing it. After a time, I would close my eyes, think back to my day and narrow down on the “what” and write just that and as quickly as possible. The best and immediately honest thoughts come with free writing. It is the closest as possible to your subconscious, and you want to tap into that for this exercise.
- Go back and read every now and then: The point of this exercise is to not just reflect and write and keep moving forward but to also look back and see how far you have come. Every few weeks, I would go back and read what I had written. Not always in order, but I’d flip a page over at random. Gratitude journaling is an exercise in progress and of a recursive immersion into the positives that your days are filled with. What I have written has surprised me, made me laugh, smile and giggle and at times choked me with the memory. Yes, there were some for which I went “Really? That happened?”. It’s a mixed bag, but a worthy bag.
Studies have shown that translating thoughts into a concrete language helps deepen the emotion and its impact on our psyche. Writing (and it can be any kind of writing) helps us organize our thoughts. We think faster than we write and hence to keep pace, our thoughts are forced to slow down and when that happens, we are able to organize them in the order that puts everything in context. Something along the lines of a view down from an airplane, a bigger picture if you will.
I hope I have been able to convince you to at least give the gratitude journal a shot!
Journaling is a practice that we could all use, and saying thanks makes us pause and savor our present, coz our past is done, and the future is uncertain and the NOW is all that we have. Be in the Now.