How can this be possible? Despite all the disruptions in my life with my father-in-law’s radiation treatments, I find myself more grateful than ever. But I am.
I remember the afternoon Dad was having one of his better days and we sat quietly chatting away while we waited for the doctor and nurse in the post-treatment room. We had such a good time.
Then there was the touching moment when I saw Dad reach over and hold onto to Mom’s walker as they sauntered down the hall to a nurses’ clinic – together.
Last night I wondered if perhaps I should start a gratitude journal or diary to keep a record of these treasured moments, so years from now I can remember how special they were. This is not an original concept. Rather, I discovered it’s more main-stream than I realized. Cathy Kelly, in her latest novel “It Started with Paris” had Grace, one of her characters keep a gratitude diary. In one scene Grace looked at her list hopelessly. She had three items, but she had to have five. She did not know why, but five it had to be.
I remember reading one article (alas, I can’t seem to find it) that suggested keeping a gratitude journal was quick, easy and required only a minute a day. All you had to do was jot down five things you were grateful for, like: 1. sunshine, 2. making new friends, 3. carpooling, 4. cat cuddles, and 5. health. All done.
If we ever look back on these lists, will we recognize why the item made us grateful? Is that important, or is it more important that we had the thought of gratitude when we wrote down the one word or short phrase? My guess is the latter and because a journal is personal, we can record whatever makes sense to us at the time.
I recently listened to an interesting and entertaining TED Talk by positive psychologist Shawn Achor explaining how happiness increases our productivity. Gratitude journaling was a large component to his approach to creating lasting positive change in twenty-one days. He suggested writing down three new things that we are grateful for and journal about one positive experience we’ve had in the past twenty-four hours.
Another study found that participants in a group that were asked to briefly describe five things they were grateful for every week felt better about their lives as a whole in ten weeks, were more optimistic about the future, and reported fewer health problems than the other participants.
I’m concluding that there is value to keeping a gratitude journal. It is about recording moments that bring us joy and more. Gratitude is a deeper component of happiness. It’s about expressing appreciation for the people in your life, focusing on what we have as opposed to what we have not. It’s about having peace with life as it is. It’s about being grateful for the lessons we learn in the process. It is about hope.
Journaling is a daily reminder for us to recognize that good things happen every day; even on crappy ones. Writing forces us to pay attention, translate our nebulous thoughts into concrete language. It clarifies, organizes and sets context. And having to come up with five things daily stretches us to seek the less obvious, particularly on those tough days.
What I know for sure is that if we need to retrain our brain, then a daily practice, as suggested by Shawn Achor is the best. However, when it becomes just an item on your daily ‘to-do’ list that we rush through, I can see it losing its value. I believe if we are going to keep gratitude journals, then we should write when it makes sense to do so, be it daily or weekly and not beat ourselves up when life gets busy and we miss a cycle.