Last Christmas I received a beautiful 2019 ‘week to view’ appointment diary as a gift. In my previous work life I had been a great lover of an old fashioned diary, the last few years however have seen my weekly calendar become fully digitised, making this delightful date organiser redundant. For a stationery fiend such as myself this posed a dilemma particularly as it had a sell by date. The only solutions I could come up with were ‘re-gifting’ (who me? Never!) or a gratitude journal. I chose the latter.
Gratitude journaling has been on the wellness radar for a while now, it simply involves writing down a few things each day that you are thankful for. I’ll admit I didn’t take a whole lot of notice of the gratitude journaling trend to begin with. It’s not that I was skeptical about it…ok maybe a teen bit…while it did sound like a relatively pleasant exercise, it also felt like it would be ‘one more thing to do’. But then my diary presented itself, urgently requiring gainful employment. (I’m aware there may be indications here of hoarding but that’s a whole other blog.)
“Being grateful all the time isn’t easy. But it’s when you least feel thankful that you are most in need of what gratitude can give you: perspective. Gratitude can transform any situation…moving you from negative energy to positive. It’s the quickest, easiest most powerful way to effect change in your life.” Oprah Winfrey
I’ve been keeping the journal / diary quite consistently since January and I have to admit, rather than feeling like ‘one more thing to do’ I actually enjoy taking a few minutes each day out of my busy early morning schedule (which is a combination of farting around and fannying about), having a little think and jotting down three or four things that I’m thankful for. Morning time works best for me, but evening makes more sense for many. While I was doing some research for this blog I discovered many experts maintain that journalling once a week instead of everyday keeps things fresh and is ultimately more effective. Personally I think I’d forget if I was just doing it once a week, although perhaps tying it to another weekly activity such as a class could help if that’s your preference.
What has been really interesting has been reading back over the diary and seeing the same themes popping up over and over which makes it very clear what’s important to me in my life.
On the research front, studies have shown that people who actively count their blessings have higher levels of positive emotions, experience more life satisfaction, increase their vitality and feel more optimistic. More specifically expressing appreciation for what we have and fostering those positive emotions can help improve our emotional resilience, self-esteem, our relationships and reduce stress. Research has even shown that people who “scored high on the gratitude measure” have demonstrated better sleep as well as being more likely to exercise. These days thanks to social media, that old ‘thief of joy’, ‘comparison’ can nibble away at us…or chomp in some cases. Practicing gratitude can help to counter this along with feelings of entitlement, by recognising and regularly reminding ourselves of the things that we already have and value in our life.
In psychologist Maureen Gaffney’s book ‘Flourishing’, she points out that being grateful when you’re happy and in a positive mood is relatively easy, but where it is most important is when life is difficult and you’re in a negative mood. This brings to mind another book ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ by Victor Frankl who tells the story of his time in a concentration camp, about as difficult as life could be, and his fellow prisoners taking time to admire a beautiful sunset.
Although I am talking specifically about a gratitude journal, it’s not all about writing it down and keeping it to ourselves. Developing a habit of gratitude encourages us to notice other’s generous intentions and actions, therefore making us more likely to reciprocate.
While the evidence points to practicing gratitude having both mental and physiological benefits there’s also the suggestion, although not yet scientifically proven, that it could improve your longevity – I guess if it helps you maintain your physical and mental health that’s not a big stretch to come to that conclusion right?
I recently read a lovely little book called ‘Ikigai; The Japanese Secret To a Long & Happy Life’. As part of their research, the authors visited Ogimi, in Japan, known as ‘the Village of Longevity’, which has the highest life expectancy in the world. They interviewed one hundred of the eldest residents in a bid to find their secret to long life and happiness.
The book concludes with the ten rules of Ikigai where the authors distill what they have learned from the Ogimi spring chickens. Rule number 8 is ‘Give Thanks’… “To your ancestors, to nature…to your friends and family, to everything that brightens your days and makes you feel lucky to be alive. Spend a moment everyday giving thanks and watch your stockpile of happiness grow.”
I’ve found the longer I’ve been keeping the diary, the easier it is to do. Now that I know I want to write them down, I tend to take a mental note when I come across things I’m grateful for throughout the day. This morning I had free time and took a stroll along Sandymount, the sun was shining and warm enough for me to take a seat on a bench and call my Dad for a chat. There’s so much in that alone to be grateful for.
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realise they were the big things.” Robert Brault