At some point in early April 2015, I learned about the concept of keeping a gratitude journal. Or at least that’s when my journal starts to include lists of “Today, I’m grateful” at the end of each day. I initially started with a one-off list, at the back of my book, which said “I am lucky because” but I reworded that to be “I am grateful that” and started doing a daily practice rather than adding to one big list.
I can’t remember which article suggested it, but I’m glad it did. It was one of those things that you read at just the right time; it was part of my process for coming to terms with Mum’s death, and a need to find positives in life. Since then I’ve never written down less than three things, and I would say I’ve done this 99% of days. Some days they’re specific - somebody did something for me which made me feel something. Some days they’re more general - that I got to spend time on the beach for instance. Some days, if it’s been a particularly tough day, it may be that I’m grateful that most days are better than this. The same thing may appear week after week - I’m often thankful for choir practices and the sense of belonging I get. I don’t feel that I need to think of unique things every day - this shouldn’t be a burden, it should be a thing of peace and delight. Every now and again I’ll send a card, email, text, or tell somebody that I’m grateful to them which helps me to continue to build connections with the people I appreciate having in my life.
Last week I read more on the subject of Gratitude. I bought this book by Robert Emmons as he was mentioned in the Self-Compassion book I read recently (on which more in another post). I didn’t get much of the why it works from the book, and in fact, I found the following statement to be a bit of a cop-out
Gratitude is a complex state of interacting cognitive and emotional components, so it is likely that it involves multiple brain systems. It is no easy task to isolate these in the brain scanner
but I did find some thoughts that I liked:
Living gratefully begins with affirming the good and recognizing its sources. It is the understanding that life owes me nothing and all the good I have is a gift, accompanied by an awareness that nothing can be taken for granted
When we respond to our lives, our past as well as events in the present, from a point of view of gratitude and appreciation, the way we interpret our experiences beings to shift and soften as we begin to soften inside
When faced with adversity, gratitude helps us to see the big picture and not feel overwhelmed by current setbacks. It can actually motivate us to tackle the challenges before us
And I found a new practice to add to my routine. It is called “Count blessings not sheep” and says
After you get into bed, but before drifting off to sleep, try to focus on pleasant thoughts – good things happening to your family or friends; the soothing sounds in your bedroom; how fortunate you are to be in good health; future plans, such as holidays or an upcoming trip; enjoyable things you did during the past few days; how relaxed you are feeling; good things that other people have done for you in the past few days.
I love this. The idea of consciously drifting off to sleep thinking about the positives in life, rather than things to do, things I could have done better, or things that cause disquiet in my soul is a peaceful one. I’ve been trying it for the past few days, and it certainly hasn’t made my sleep patterns any worse.
I have no real way of knowing if gratitude has made a difference in my life, or to my outlook on life. But I feel I have a pretty positive view of most things, so I guess it hasn’t harmed.
If you have any thoughts about gratitude to share, I’d love to read them. Thanks for reading!