Writing for Joy – How & Why I Keep a Gratitude Journal

 

“Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot” Hausa Proverb

Recently I put a post on social media commenting it had taken a long time to fill out my gratitude journal that day, I was feeling so thankful. I received quite a few messages asking how and why I journal gratitude. I wrote this piece about six years ago for a spiritual publication but it’s still relevant now. Gratitude journaling is always something I do every day so I thought I’d share this adapted post here.

In my early, dark days of first acquiring a disability, I didn’t feel I had an awful lot to be thankful for.

It was like I had spent my whole life getting to the point where I had a thriving holistic therapy practice I loved, an amazing social life with great friends, and my beautiful dog, who I would take on daily country walks.

Life was perfect. I had so much to be grateful for, but then it was suddenly snatched away. 

I was left with constant pain, immobility, and three children who I felt I was letting down as I wasn’t able to run around with them. So what did I have to be grateful for, right? The previous ten years had been the best I had ever experienced, and I was naturally appreciative of all I had. After my accident, appreciativeness soon turned to hurt, anger, self-pity, and eventually self-loathing.

I caused myself more pain by resisting the enforced lifestyle change and couldn’t see a purpose in anything. It was at this point I knew I had to make a change.

I’d heard of gratitude journaling and since I love writing, it seemed to be an obvious starting point.

That night I sat with my journal, intending to begin with three things I was grateful for that day. Just three. Piece of cake, right? After an hour, I gently closed the cover on the tear-stained, still blank first page and cried myself to sleep, mentally adding “failure at journaling” to all my other perceived shortcomings.

A couple of days later I decided to try again. Determinedly opening up the book, I quickly wrote my children, my home, and food to eat. Feeling a smug sense of satisfaction, I replaced the pen lid. I was done, right? Objective achieved.

The next day I opened the book and froze. What could I write? The three things from the day before were all I could think of. I couldn’t repeat them, and yet nothing else came to mind.

I laid the incredibly crumpled but virtually blank book down again and rested my head against the window as I watched a robin tentatively sitting on the garden fence, anxiously watching all directions while trying to keep an eye on the birdseed my son had put on the feeding station before school.

For half an hour, this beautiful bird made several trips, came back with friends, and triumphantly cleared all that we had offered.

It dawned on me that while I had been watching, I hadn’t felt sorry for myself once. I had been mindful and in awe of nature and how beautiful it can be.

Excitedly, I reached for my book again. I ripped out the first page and discarded it. Yes, my children, home, and food were things to be grateful for, but I just wrote them for the sake of reaching my goal. I wasn’t really feeling anything at the time I wrote them, and I knew the exercise had been an empty one.

That little tiny bird, with its beautiful red breast had evoked a truly positive emotion, and from that I started to become more and more aware and recognise these precious moments as they occurred, which they generally do if you watch for them each day.

It hasn’t been easy. It is now ten years on, and journaling has become an important part of my life. It has really helped me change my mindset and move forward.

There is joy everywhere, but it can be overshadowed by pain if you allow it. 

When I have a bad day now, I read back over my journal and I remember that life has so much to offer. I still have a lot to be grateful for. Yes, I am one of the lucky ones. I have a life and I love it.

If you want to start a gratitude journal I recommend the following:

  1. Don’t just go through motions. Make a decision to be consciously more grateful.

Don’t reluctantly journal because you think you should. Feel what you write. Believe it.

  1. Don’t set yourself a minimum number of things to write per day.

In my experience, there are days I can’t fill a page, and that’s perfectly okay. On balance, there are days I can fill multiple pages. Don’t put yourself under pressure to stick to the same amount each day. Be flexible and don’t take the joy away by being too regimented.

  1. Don’t wait for the right time.

I try to integrate this into my bedtime routine, but if I have a joyful experience, I often write it down straight away. This reinforces the positivity felt and ensures I don’t forget anything.

  1. Elaborating on why you are grateful allows you to really explore your feelings.

If, like me, you intend on flicking back through your journal, make it clear why you are grateful for the items you add. For example: For the first entry, I put “my children.” On day two, I wrote, “my children for putting on a sock puppet show after school and making me laugh.” That triggers so many memories each time I read it and always makes me smile.

  1. Focus on people rather than things.

As much as I love my iPod, it can never give me the same warm, fuzzy, loved feeling my partner instils by making me a surprise breakfast in bed.

  1. Don’t rush; savour every word.

Don’t see this as another chore to get through. The fact that you can make a list of things that make you feel grateful should make you feel, umm, well, grateful!

  1. Include surprises.

Unexpected events often elicit a greater emotional response. They’re also wonderful to look back on when you feel that life is mundane and the same old routine all the time.

  1. Keep the negative out.

If you want to keep a diary to record how you feel, this can be constructive, but leave your gratitude journal as a purely positive only exercise.

  1. Mix it up. Don’t put same thing every day.

Expand your awareness. The more you do this, the more you’ll start to really appreciate what a gift life is. The world is beautiful. Learn to really experience it.

  1. Be creative.

Who says a gratitude journal has to be full of lists? Mine contains everything from concert tickets to photos and restaurant receipts. Have some fun with it.

  1. Give it a fair chance.

Some experts say it takes, on average, twenty-one days for a new habit to form. Don’t give up or dismiss it as not working before then. Commit to just three weeks and then see how you feel. What have you got to lose?

I would love to hear how you get on.

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Kindness is contagious – Be a carrier #NationalKindnessDay

When my boys were small we would start each day sitting at around the kitchen table and over breakfast we would each list 3 things we were grateful for. We also kept a notebook and after school we would discuss as a family ways in which we had been kind and jot them down. On days where they were feeling low, too much homework, squabbles with friends, lost PE kits, we would read back through the book and would feel uplifted. Of course true acts of kindness aren’t contrived, and shouldn’t be carried out in the hope of ‘getting something back.’ But after a while of consciously practicing kindness and gratitude it becomes second nature and my children have grown to be compassionate, appreciative and positive.

Never underestimate the transformation a simple act of kindness can have on someone’s day. When was the last time you smiled at a stranger? Let someone go in the queue in front of you? Praised good service?

Studies have shown people who mindfully practice kindness and gratitude have improved mental and physical health, stronger immune systems, reduced stress and depression, are happier and cope better with difficult situations.

In honour of National Kindness Day, The Diana Award are inviting people to carry out a random act of kindness today and share it on their website. Will you take part?

 

50 Happy Things 2016: Bloggers flood the internet with gratitude

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When Dawn Landau invited me to take part in a gratitude blog party last year I didn’t need any encouragement to say yes, and I can’t believe the year has flown by and it’s time to do it again. I’ve kept a gratitude journal for years now and it really has transformed the way I think. It can be hard some days of course to find something to be grateful for – life has a habit of knocking us down – but once we start feeling grateful, it’s like rolling a giant snowball. That warm fuzzy feeling gets bigger and bigger until it becomes part of our automatic thinking. For tips to start your own gratitude journal read this. To join in with the blog party following the instructions at the bottom of the page.

  1. Water – I never cease to feel humbled when I turn the tap on and fresh water runs.
  1. My children – No matter how bad things seem, they always make me smile.
  1. My husband – A great support, I’ve lost count of the number of times he’s stepped up and fed everyone when I wanted to write ‘just one more page.’
  1. Bed – I have a bad back and it’s lovely to sleep in comfort; so many don’t.
  1. Healthcare – Say what you will about the NHS I feel fortunate to have received the healthcare I have.
  1. Clothes – Clothes for luxury, for fashion – how lucky am I?
  1. Food – I do love to eat. I can’t imagine feeling hungry everyday.
  1. Climate – The UK weather is unpredictable but it allows me to grow fruit and vegetables.
  1. Electricity – Making life easier in so many ways.
  1. Books – Whether for learning or pure escapism I always support my local bookstore and library.
  1. Mistakes I’ve made and leant from – there have been many.
  1. Inventors – It blows me away to think how hard life would be without so many of the things we take for granted.
  1. Scientists – Those who work tirelessly to cure diseases and make the world a better place.
  1. Volunteers – It warms me to hear stories of volunteers, whether close to home or abroad.
  1. Kindness – A simple act of kindness really changes my day – I pay it forward when I can.
  2. Sun – As well as sustaining life, doesn’t it make you feel good to see the sunshine?
  1. Friends – Always ready to listen.
  1. Finding a publisher to take a chance on a new author and realising my dream of becoming published.
  1. Mindfulness – Learning this really did change my life. So grateful to my mentor.
  1. A garden – I love to be outside.
  1. Light – Reading by candlelight wouldn’t be fun – I’d probably set light to my book!
  1. A large dining table to seat my family around.
  1. Time – It’s a luxury and I carve out some for myself everyday. 10 minutes at least of doing something just for me.
  1. Car – I’d feel so isolated if I couldn’t drive.
  1. Music – Live gigs, cds, vinyl – I love it all.
  1. Piano – I love to play even though my neighbours probably have their fingers in their ears.
  1. Postal service – I’m just as likely to write a friend a letter rather than an email and receiving one back is warming.
  1. Photos – So lovely to look back on – how did my children grow so quick?
  1. Laughter – An essential part of my day.
  1. Movies – Pure escapism.
  1. Memories – Thinking of something that makes me smile.
  1. Nature – I adore the countryside. The space. The air. The stillness.
  1. My cat – He comes home every 30 minutes for a cuddle before going out again.
  1. Money – I don’t have a lot, but I’m fortunate to get by.
  1. A smile – As well as making others happy it gives a real good feeling to work those facial muscles.
  1. A home – A place to hang my hat.
  1. My dog – My spaniel is ridiculously happy – all the time.
  1. All the incredible book bloggers, reviewers and readers I have met this year, both on-line and off-line and other authors for offering their support.
  1. Education – I’m so grateful for the opportunities we have in the UK, the qualifications my son has gained this year.
  1. My debut novel, The Sister, reaching No.1 both in the UK chart and internationally was incredible!
  1. Medicine – Diseases that would have killed us can now be treated – amazing.
  1. My recently released second novel, The Gift for receiving phenomenal reviews.
  1. Wildlife – I’m animal crazy. Love to feed the birds.
  1. Colour – It just makes you feel, doesn’t it?
  1. A kitchen – A place to cook, to hang out and to nourish.
  1. A hug – Nothing seems quite so bad afterwards.
  1. Shoes – When I think of those trekking for miles barefoot for food and water…
  1. Hope – ‘It’ll be ok in the end, if it isn’t ok, it isn’t the end.’
  1. Doing something I love for a living.
  1. Love – Where would we be without it?

 

If you’d like to join in, here’s how it works: set a timer for 15 minutes; timing this is critical. Once you start the timer, start your list. The goal is to write 50 things that made you happy in 2016, or 50 thing that you feel grateful for. The idea is to not think too hard; just write what comes to mind in the time allotted. You may find that if you use numbered mode, and just type what comes to mind, like me you will have enough time for more than 50. When the timer’s done, stop writing. Finish whatever sentence you’re on, but don’t add more. If you haven’t written 50 things, that’s ok. If you have more than 50 things and still have time, keep writing; you can’t feel too happy or too grateful!

To join us for this project: 1) Write your post and publish it (please copy and paste these instructions into your post) 2) Click here. 3) That will take you to another window, where you can past the URL to your post. (folks have trouble with this, but it’s not that hard. 4)Follow the prompts, and your post will be added to the Blog Party List. Please note: the InLinkz will expire on January 3, 2017. After that date, no blogs can be added. Scan to the bottom of this post to find the inlinkz.

50 Happy Things for 2015: Bloggers Unite in Flood of Gratitude

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When Dawn Landau invited me to take part in a gratitude blog party I didn’t need any encouragement to say yes. I’ve kept a gratitude journal for years now and it really has transformed the way I think. It can be hard some days of course to find something to be grateful for – life has a habit of knocking us down – but once we start feeling grateful, it’s like rolling a giant snowball. That warm fuzzy feeling gets bigger and bigger until it becomes part of our automatic thinking. For tips to start your own gratitude journal read this. To join in with the blog party following the instructions at the bottom of the page.

 

  1. Water – I never cease to feel humbled when I turn the tap on and fresh water runs.
  2. My children – No matter how bad things seem, they always make me smile.
  3. My husband – A great support, I’ve lost count of the number of times he’s stepped up and fed everyone when I wanted to write ‘just one more page.’
  4. Bed – I have a bad back and it’s lovely to sleep in comfort; so many don’t.
  5. Healthcare – Say what you will about the NHS I feel fortunate to have received the healthcare I have.
  6. Clothes – Clothes for luxury, for fashion – how lucky am I?
  7. Food – I do love to eat. I can’t imagine feeling hungry everyday.
  8. Climate – The UK weather is unpredictable but it allows me to grow fruit and vegetables.
  9. Electricity – Making life easier in so many ways.
  10. Books – Whether for learning or pure escapism I always support my local bookstore and library.
  11. Mistakes I’ve made and leant from – there have been many.
  12. Inventors – It blows me away to think how hard life would be without so many of the things we take for granted.
  13. Scientists – Those who work tirelessly to cure diseases and make the world a better place.
  14. Volunteers – It warms me to hear stories of volunteers, whether close to home or abroad.
  15. Kindness – A simple act of kindness really changes my day – I pay it forward when I can.
  16. Sun – As well as sustaining life, doesn’t it make you feel good to see the sunshine?
  17. Friends – Always ready to listen.
  18. Emergency services – Where would we be without our emergency response.
  19. Mindfulness – Learning this really did change my life. So grateful to my mentor.
  20. A garden – I love to be outside.
  21. Light – Reading by candlelight wouldn’t be fun – I’d probably set light to my book!
  22. Authors – It takes a crazy amount of time to create a book and I’m grateful to those that do.
  23. Time – It’s a luxury and I carve out some for myself everyday. 10 minutes at least of doing something just for me.
  24. Car – I’d feel so isolated if I couldn’t drive.
  25. Music – Live gigs, cds, vinyl – I love it all.
  26. Piano – I love to play even though my neighbours probably have their fingers in their ears.
  27. Postal service – I’m just as likely to write a friend a letter rather than an email and receiving one back is warming.
  28. Photos – So lovely to look back on – how did my children grow so quick?
  29. Laughter – An essential part of my day.
  30. Movies – Pure escapism.
  31. Memories – Thinking of something that makes me smile.
  32. Nature – I adore the countryside. The space. The air. The stillness.
  33. My cat – He comes home every 30 minutes for a cuddle before going out again.
  34. Money – I don’t have a lot, but I’m fortunate to get by.
  35. A smile – As well as making others happy it gives a real good feeling to work those facial muscles.
  36. A home – A place to hang my hat.
  37. My dog – My spaniel is ridiculously happy – all the time.
  38. Seeds – I can grow flowers, vegetables, I’ve even planted a tree or two.
  39. Education – I’m so grateful for the opportunities we have in the UK, the qualifications my son has gained this year.
  40. Spiritual gurus – The teachings of others have really improved my life.
  41. Medicine – Diseases that would have killed us can now be treated – amazing.
  42. Complementary health – It’s great to have a choice.
  43. Wildlife – I’m animal crazy. Love to feed the birds.
  44. Colour – It just makes you feel, doesn’t it?
  45. A kitchen – A place to cook, to hang out and to nourish.
  46. A hug – Nothing seems quite so bad afterwards.
  47. Shoes – When I think of those trekking for miles barefoot for food and water…
  48. Hope – ‘It’ll be ok in the end, if it isn’t ok, it isn’t the end.’
  49. The blogging community – You guys gave me the confidence to write a novel.
  50. Love – Where would we be without it?

 

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If you’d like to join in, here’s how it works: set a timer for 10 minutes; timing this is critical. Once you start the timer, start your list. The goal is to write 50 things that made you happy in 2015, or 50 thing that you feel grateful for. The idea is to not think too hard; write what comes to mind in the time allotted. When the timer’s done, stop writing. If you haven’t written 50 things, that’s ok. If you have more than 50 things and still have time, keep writing; you can’t feel too happy or too grateful! 

To join the bloggers who have come together for this project: 1) Write your post and publish it (please copy and paste the instructions from this post, into yours) 2) Click here3) That will take you to another window, where you can past the URL to your post. 4) Follow the prompts, and your post will be added to the Blog Party List.

Please note that only blog posts that include a list of 50 (or an attempt to write 50) things that made you feel Happy or 50 things that you are Grateful for, will be included. Please don’t add a link to a post that isn’t part of this exercise.