I first learned about gratitude journals in an article written by Oliver Burkeman in 2009. I'd never heard the term before and was instantly intrigued. The idea is that noting down things for which one is thankful encourages the mind to focus, if only for a few minutes each day, on the positive. Some people make a list in their diary, others keep a dedicated notebook; I secured a sheet of lined paper to the fridge with a magnet and taped a pen on a piece of string next to it. Whatever works, right?
Empirical research and anecdotal evidence suggest that keeping a gratitude journal leads to improved psychological and physical functioning. Those who consistently count their blessings report and exhibit increased optimism, motivation and feelings of contentment – they typically take more exercise, eat more mindfully and experience heightened levels of joy.
HOW TO GET STARTED
Write down five things for which you are grateful, along with how and why those things enrich your life.
I am grateful for _____, because _____.
As obnoxious as it is to admit, I found it difficult to think of anything in the beginning. (Full disclosure: I was horribly depressed at the time.) I would stand beside the fridge in the evening, running through my day, searching for something for which to be grateful. ('I am thankful for the fridge'; 'I am thankful for the food in the fridge'; 'I am thankful that I have hands with which to write these things down'...) As the weeks went by, however, I started to appreciate things not just retrospectively but in the moment, too. I'd be taking a shower and rather than getting lost in all I had to do that day, I'd find myself thinking, I am grateful for hot running water. Or I'd put the phone down after a pleasant conversation and think, I am grateful for my friendship with Alice. It became a somewhat automatic response.
There is no good or bad, not really; there are events + interpretation + social convention. But when it feels like life isn't going your way, it can be easy to get mired in negative thought patterns. Taking a few moments to contemplate what you have and how things truly are can be grounding and stop you getting caught up in a game of 'What if...?'. At least, that's what it does for me. And for that, I am grateful.