Do you ever have days when you are tired and perhaps a little cranky? I have found myself in this boat a little more often than normal lately. I haven’t been getting enough sleep, and as a result, I find myself more impatient than usual. Little comments and events tend to get under my skin easily, and I have been speaking out loud the negative thoughts I usually keep inside.
This is not the person I want to be. When I noticed this was becoming more common, it wasn’t just “one bad day”, I knew I needed to do something to change my state of mind. I decided it was time to focus on the positive. My friend Denise at I Choose Me is always reminding me to choose joy, so I chose to follow her advice.
I started a gratitude journal.
I know there has been a lot of talk about gratitude journals for the last decade, but as is true with most things, I am slow to jump on the bandwagon. I started by simply making a list each day of people, things, or events for which I’m thankful and why.
I intended to make a new list every day for one month; I figured that would be enough time to develop the habit of being grateful and focusing on all the positive things in my life. But I found the more thorough my list was one day, the harder it was to think of things the next day. So I turned to the internet to find some prompts to help me expand my thinking.
That was when I stumbled upon Greater Good, a website from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley about the science of a meaningful life. One of their posts shared tips for keeping a gratitude journal. I decided to incorporate a few of their tips into my current journaling.
#1. DEPTH IS BETTER THAN BREADTH.
Rather than focusing on how long of a list I could create, I tried to write in more detail about one person or event. At first, this tip appealed to me because it sounded like less work (remember the part where I said I wasn’t getting enough sleep?). However, I noticed the benefit the first time I tried it.
By elaborating on the details, I discovered numerous things I was thankful for. I also realized the details caused the person or event to “come to life” as if I had just experienced it, and those positive feelings stuck with me much longer than when I merely created a list.
#2. LESS IS MORE.
The positive side effects of gratitude journaling can actually diminish if you journal too often. Greater Good found that people experienced stronger boosts of happiness if they journaled once or twice per week instead of daily. I guess it really is possible to have too much of a good thing.
What I personally found was that when I was trying to make a list everyday of things I was thankful for, it was sometimes “work” to make my list before falling asleep at night. Now that I only journal a few times a week, I tend to look forward to it more, and I can actually feel the joy when I sit down to write.
#3. TRY SUBTRACTION RATHER THAN ADDITION.
This tip first appealed to the math-geek side of me. But, no, it does not include any arithmetic, which is a bummer, but it is still good advice. Rather it suggests considering what life would be like without some of the blessings that we have.
When I began to think the experiences I might have missed out on or the personal traits I might not have developed or the people I might not have met, my depth of gratitude grew. I realized just how important these people and events are to me and the person I’ve become. I actually felt my insides tingle, and I knew beyond a doubt that I am truly blessed.
While I admit I still have my negative moments (hey, I am still human), I have found that keeping a gratitude journal is helping me to focus on the positive. So even when I notice myself getting a little down, I can read bits of my journal and remind myself just how lucky I am. Even simply thinking about it helps me to keep my cool in tense situations and allows me to practice a little more patience and forgiveness. Keeping my gratitude journal helps me to be the person I want be, and that is what really matters.
Have you tried a gratitude journal? What tips do you find helpful? Share them in the comment section below!