‘Reflect upon your present blessings, for which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some’ – Charles Dickens
Journalling is big news right now. Lots of people are trying it and the majority are finding it really helps their stress levels and sense of wellbeing. There are several different types of journalling and we may come back and look at some of these later, but for now, we’re going to consider the gratitude journal.
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is about looking at the here and now and saying thank you, counting your blessings rather than your worries. Rather than always thinking about what you want to happen in the future or dwelling on the past or the negatives in your life, it enables you to appreciate what is happening right here, right now.
It’s so easy to feel that we lack something when all around us, through advertising and social media, we are seeing perfect relationships, families, homes, cars and bodies. It all contributes to making us want more and feeling unsatisfied with our existing lives rather than appreciating what we do have.
So how does gratitude help?
Recent studies have shown that people who express gratitude regularly are happier, more energetic, less materialistic and more forgiving. Being thankful can decrease depression and increase contentment, contributing significantly to improved mental health. If we express gratitude for the good things that happen in our lives, we begin to increase our self-esteem and feel calmer and less stressed. A study by Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude who studied over 1000 people aged between 8 and 80, even showed that people who practice gratitude daily had stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure and were less bothered by aches and pains!
If you think about it, focussing on what you haven’t got or the negatives in your life is never going to make you feel happy! It is so easy to start overthinking and believing that bad things are happening all around you or being directed at you. A sure way to feel stressed and unhappy which in turn leads to ill health. Yet by thinking about the good things that happen every day, you are actually training your mind to become happier by finding the positives.
Sounds good! What do I need to do?
There are several ways of expressing gratitude: you could simply say a silent thank you when something good happens or you could spend five minutes first thing in the morning or at the end of the day thinking about the good things in your life. It can be a good way to start the day positively but it’s especially helpful to do this at night as you will fall asleep thinking positive thoughts and your subconscious brain continues this, meaning you should sleep better as a result.
A gratitude journal allows the good things to be written down and then read back on a day when we might need reminding of all the good things in our lives. Let’s say someone compliments you on what you are wearing or the way you’ve styled your hair. Normally you would probably forget all about it within a day or two but by writing it down and reading it back on a day where you think you look terrible in all your clothes and your hair is awful could really give you a boost.
Writing your feelings of gratitude down, or recording your thoughts on a voice recorder, means you are far more likely to develop a habit than you would if you just think about it. It also helps to keep you accountable (you won’t want to miss a day). Actually writing down or recording your voice means that you are more aware of your thoughts which deepens the emotional impact of your gratitude too.
Starting a gratitude journal is really simple, all that’s needed is a note book and a pen (or a voice recorder if you would rather do it that way).
What kind of thing counts?
Literally anything that made you smile or laugh, or felt good in some way or that you’re proud of. Maybe a task you’d been putting off but you finally did it, a phone call with a friend that made you happy, a book you are enjoying reading or a TV programme that made you smile. It could be that your child did well at school and you are super proud of them or your boss thanked you for something you’d done.
Try not to go for the really obvious ones – your family, your home, etc – but it you do then think about a particular reason why. For example ‘I am grateful for my home because it has been cold, wet and windy today but the radiator has been on and I have felt warm and safe’ or ‘I am grateful for my dog because she snuggled up to me just as I was feeling sad and, after five minutes of stroking her, I felt so much better’. You get the idea!
But what if there is nothing good to write about?
On those days where nothing much happens, thinking about our five senses can bring inspiration. The sound of the birds or the chatter of children, the sight of clear blue sky or a rainbow, the taste of the delicious dinner you cooked, the smell of toast and the feel of your pets fur or your hands around a hot mug on a cold day.
Even on the darkest days, there will always be something to express gratitude for. Your legs that enable you to walk, your eyes that allow you to read a book, having a roof over your head, food to eat.
I started a gratitude journal about a month ago. I bought a pretty notebook with a ribbon page marker and every night, just before I get into bed, I write three things that I feel grateful for that day. I start by writing the date in full and then ‘Today I am grateful for ….’. I don’t spend too long thinking about it, I just write the first three things that come into my mind. If something else pops into my mind, I just add it. There are no rules!
Sometimes it’s a simple moment in nature: the beautiful sunset or watching the birds play in the garden. It could be something practical: the windows were cleaned today and are sparkling. Often it’s about my connection with other people: breakfast with a friend, a game of table tennis with my sons or a walk in the park with my mum. I’ve found that I go to bed thinking about those things rather than any negative thoughts or worries about the day. I’ve often struggled with falling asleep but I’m finding that it has really helped me to switch off.
The Tiny Tweak!
My blog is all about our journey to better health and happiness by finding simple things we can all do in our daily lives. For me, starting a gratitude journal has helped me to think more positively and to sleep better, improving both my health and my happiness levels at the same time. It only takes a couple of minutes, although you could spend more time if you wanted to, reflecting on all the good things from the day. So, is a gratitude journal for you? What’s your tiny tweak going to be this week?!
Until next time xx
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