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In my early, dark days of first acquiring a disability I didn’t feel I had an awful lot to be thankful for.
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.
Having always enjoyed writing, gratitude journaling seemed to be an obvious starting point. That night I sat with my journal, intending to start with three things I was grateful for that day. Just 3.
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? Nothing different to the day before came to mind.
I laid the incredibly crumpled but virtually blank book down again and rested my head against the window. I watched a robin tentatively sitting on the garden fence, anxiously watching all directions while trying to keep an eye on the birdseed on the feeding station.
This beautiful bird made several trips, came back with friends, and triumphantly cleared all we offered.
It dawned on me that while I had been watching, that little tiny bird, had evoked a truly positive emotion, and from then i became more aware and recognised precious moments occur each day.
Excitedly, I reached for my book again. I ripped out the first page and discarded it. Yes, I was grateful for my children, home, and food, but I just listed 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.
It hasn’t been easy. It is now five years on and journaling has become an important part of my life. It has really helped me change my mindset and move forward.
If you want to start a gratitude journal I recommend the following:
1. Make a decision to be more grateful.
Don’t reluctantly journal because you think you should. Feel what you write. Believe it.
2. Don't put pressure on yourself to stick to a total each day.
Many sites will recommend writing five or so things per day. In my experience, there are days I have less, and that’s perfectly okay. On balance there are days I can fill a page. 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.
3. The right time is always now.
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.
4. Elaborate on your feelings in the gratitude journal.
If, like me, you intend on flicking back through your journal, make it clear why you are grateful for the items you add.
5. 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 instills by making me a surprise breakfast in bed.
6. Savor the process. (It's not a chore, it's a choice.)
The fact that you can make a list of things that make you feel grateful should make you feel, umm, well, grateful!
7. 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.
8. Stay positive.
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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. Give it a fair chance.
It takes, on average, 21 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?