In this week of Thanksgiving, I want to share a practice that I began long ago that has dramatically improved my mood, my well-being and my life. It takes less than 10 minutes a day and requires less than $10 in materials. The most challenging part of the practice is that it requires practice. You must work and have discipline to do it day in and day out, regardless of your state of mind, your fatigue or your busyness.
The practice is that of a Gratitude Journal. A daily practice of pausing to reflect on your day and your life and noting 3 to 5 things that you are grateful for. Don’t let the word “journal” dissuade you. This is not writing an essay. This is not crafting eloquent prose. This is reviewing your current situation and jotting down just a few things you are grateful for. This is a bullet list. This is merely paying attention.
I must admit, when I starting my Gratitude Journal practice seventeen years ago, I had a tough time identifying anything I was grateful for. My job sucked. I was so busy I ended the day in exhaustion. I had a well-honed eye to spot the flaws in everything, and I do mean everything.
Yet I stayed with it. Day after day. Noting what I could. That I made it through the day. That the meeting wasn’t as bad as I expected. That the weather was sunny.
After about a week, I realized that if I was going to be serious about this, I was going to need a different tactic. And so, I resolved to actively pay attention, all day long, for things that I could note in my journal. As they say, what you seek you shall find. And I did.
I would make mental notes all day. About the flowers in my garden. My children’s hugs. A problem well solved at work. Lunch with a friend. Good food. A warm house.
Over time I began to see things through a different lens. I began to see all the abundance around me. All the things I’d taken for granted. Housing. Work. Family. Friends. Books. Music. Love. Laughter. The things that really mattered.
I also began to see patterns. I noted that things that brought me the most joy were the simple things. Flowers on my table. A family meal. A good book. Once I saw the patterns, I was able to focus on doing more of the things that I was grateful for. And my days became richer. More content. More blessed.
There are scientists who study gratitude. Up until the 1990’s research about mental health and human psychology began to shift from studying dysfunction to understanding optimal mental health and high performance. This is called positive psychology. Multiple academic studies show us that gratitude can be learned and cultivated. And those that have a grateful mindset and express appreciation to others experience:
- Increased levels of well-being and life satisfaction
- More happiness
- Better energy
- More optimism
- Less depression
- Improved health, specifically lower blood pressure
- Higher levels of control of their environment
- More personal growth
- Higher sense of purpose
- Better ability to deal with difficulties
- Fewer negative coping strategies (think drugs, alcohol, and other harmful habits)
- Better sleep
- Increased longevity
There are so many reasons that a gratitude journal is a practice worth establishing. Here are some that resonate with me:
When I practice gratitude, I am more keenly aware of what I value. The more I know and the more I notice, the more stability and balance I have in tough times.
Gratitude enables you to create a more balanced worldview. Our lives are filled with a mix of good and bad, sadness and joy. This path is not one of being Pollyanna – nor is it one of being an Eeyore….it is one of balance.
Innovation, creativity and envisioning are more likely to happen or to occur more easily in the higher emotional states that accompany gratitude.
And so, I encourage each of you to begin a practice of gratitude. It is a practice, but with practice comes proficiency and with proficiency a cascade of benefits.