Tips and Techniques for Self Improvement: Gratitude journaling

When I told some of my friends that I was going to start keeping a gratitude journal, most were pretty shocked.  I have a reputation for being a fairly sarcastic person — a bit of a hard-ass, but the truth is, as I’ve aged, I’ve softened up a lot.  While I still have my limits, I am a much more open and earnest person now than I have been previously.  I try to approach most things I come across with an open mind.

While I may have considered a gratitude journal to be a little too fluffy for me several years ago, I have always found a great deal of value in writing down my feelings.  I have usually been inconsistent with writing in journals, but I have been keeping some sort of blog for over twenty years now and writing has always been one of my most important hobbies.  When I am consistently communicating my ideas in writing, whether I have an audience in mind or not, I tend to feel much better than when I keep my thoughts and feelings to myself.

When I received my cancer diagnosis in November, I came to the conclusion that I would need to take a more proactive approach than usual to trying to maintain a positive outlook.  I told myself that I would try whatever I felt might work and this has led me to experiment with several new tools and ideas, but the gratitude journal is probably the greatest leap for me.  I started with a preset journal, called the 5-minute Journal, which is a daily journal with a set form.  At the beginning of each day, you are asked to write what you are grateful for, what would make today great, and an affirmation.  At the end of each day, you are asked to write out several amazing things that happened during the day and what you feel could have made today better.

This sounds great in theory, but the journal itself advocated a very particular way of formulating the day’s elements, mostly using a positive aspirational, or “magical” thinking approach.  The writer is asked to be grateful for things that they are working toward but have not yet obtained and to write affirmations that include wants and aspirations not yet achieved.  For me, this didn’t really work.  I want to look at my life and see it for what it is and reflect on that.  Right now, I need to live in the moment and be present and not worry too much about the future.

okay fine im gratefulI know that I could write in the journal as I want to, but after reading all the instructions, it felt difficult to interpret the formed journal in that way that I wanted to use it.  I decided that starting fresh, using a tool that suited my preferences for a more open format would be better, and so I settled on the Okay Fine, I’m Grateful! gratitude journal.  I am very happy with this choice.  The journal is nicely designed, looks great and has inspirational (but not cheesy) quotes on every other page.  I would say that its only real downfall is that it’s expensive and only has space for you to write for 100 days.  This is fine for me for now as I don’t write in it every day and I will just switch to a blank notebook once I’ve used this up.  It was nice, however, to start on this little journey with something a bit fancy.

I can say now that, after trying this out for six weeks, gratitude journaling is a great tool for purposefully creating happiness and positivity in your life.  Whether you’ve had a good day or a terrible day, sitting down at the end of it and thinking about what went well and what you can be thankful for is powerful.  There will definitely be days where it is easier to think of good things than others, but I would say that those are the days that you need that bit of positivity the most.

Sometimes I think it’s a bit of a shame that we need to work so hard to remember what we have to be thankful for because, for the most part, I and many of you who will read this live, at the very least, lives of modest abundance.  We have a warm bed to sleep in at night, a job where we are mostly treated well and respected, a family and/or friends who love and support us, enough food to eat and clothing to wear, and a good education.  It is easy, however, to be caught up in the web of negativity: to read social media and see news stories that frighten and frustrate us and status updates that make us envious of our friends; to be overwhelmed by stress at work; to get caught up in our family drama; to be sick and possibly dying.

When we have those moments where we get caught up in the web of negativity, the gratitude journal is an excellent tool for centering and reminding us that there is joy in both the simple things in life and in having the basics.  On even my worst days on my cancer journey so far, I have been able to write in my gratitude journal that I was grateful for a moment where I was able to laugh with my boyfriend or that I was able to receive a hug from my mother.  Sitting down at the end of the day and thinking about those moments rather than dwelling on everything that was wrong with my day has helped me tremendously with keeping a more positive attitude during my cancer treatment.

If you struggle, like me, with focusing too much on the negative or if you’re interested at all in self-improvement, I would recommend that you try a gratitude journal.  It doesn’t cost anything really, all you need is a piece of paper and something to write with.