There are many benefits to keeping a gratitude journal. But I keep one* for two main reasons: Awareness (as in meditation and mindfulness, like a pause during a busy day) and self-compassion. If you too have a tendency to
- Get anxious and worried
- Lack self-compassion
I strongly suggest keeping a gratitude journal. What’s a journal got to do with anxiety or self- compassion? Please read below, where you will also find tips about starting and maintaining this habit.
But first, a confession- I never liked gratitude journals before
I used to underestimate gratitude journals. No, underestimate is not the right word- I used to think that these types of acts, like gratitude journaling or positive thinking and so on, are preventing one from seeing the pain in the world and doing something. The academic in me was assuming that this was another way of the social structure to turn us all into happy little Pollyannas. In other words, I used to think that these journals were a way to main the status quo. I was wrong.
I was wrong because, these journals can, in fact, be a great tool to be more aware -of ourselves, of the world, of other people’s pain, but also our strength, love, passion, empathy. We ask more questions, not less, when we pause for a couple of minutes every day and think about what we are grateful for. For instance, if you find yourself to be grateful for your family, this shows what you value the most. So that moment of pause reminds you of your values and priorities, and you ask yourself why you do not show your appreciation more often. What prevents you from spending more time with your family? Do you think you have enough socio-economic support to spend more time and energy with your loved ones? If not, what can you do about it?
Everything, the books we read, the documentaries we watch, and journals we keep, are tools for us. We are the ones to determine how to use these, how to benefit from them, and to what end. Gratitude helps raise the level of energy in your body. This means you have already started to change your environment, by exposing yourself to new possibilities to create change. I guess I can add this lesson about gratitude journals to the lessons I have learned so far!
Gratitude journals for self-awareness and self-esteem
I started to keep a gratitude journal for these two main reasons: For (self-) awareness, and for self-compassion. As I said above, gratitude journals can help us gain insight into what matters the most for us. But most important to me has been the opportunity to just stop for a few minutes during or after a busy day, close my eyes, and think of what I am grateful for at that very moment. It’s not exactly the pause practice Pema Chodron recommends. But it is a pause nonetheless. How many opportunities do we get during the day to calm down and focus on the present moment?
Remember when I told you about how to calm down insecurities? In that post, I talk about listing your daily accomplishments, however small or trivial. Once you do this, you usually realize how full your most common, uneventful day actually is. Gratitude journals work similarly because they remind us of the things we love and appreciate about ourselves. Are you feeling guilty for not being as productive at work as you wished? How about patting yourself on the shoulder for giving your time to your loved ones instead? Feeling bad about not having lost the “baby weight” after birth? How about bragging about your incredible body which created and protected a human being and brought that human being to life? You get the gist.
Where to start, and what to do when you are stuck?
I admit that sometimes, I simply cannot ‘feel’ that gratitude I know I actually have in me. For example, of course, I am grateful for my best friend, my family, my husband, my little one; I am grateful for my dinner, my body, my intelligence. But knowing something and actually feeling it are two different things. If it is one of those days (when coffee tastes burnt, your hair looks bad, traffic is horrible, and so is the weather), and you are not really ‘feeling’ gratitude, I suggest picking one of the following questions, closing your eyes, and focusing on your response.
- What made you smile that day?
- What is your most peaceful moment? Or your happiest memory?
- Who is that one friend you can always rely on?
- What is the biggest accomplishment in your personal life?
- What is your favourite quality about yourself?
- In what way is your life more peaceful than it was a few years ago?
- What do other people like about you?
- What is one skill that you have and that most people don’t?
- When was the last time you helped someone?
- When was the last time you made someone smile?
- What is one thing you are looking forward to next year?
- What is one thing that you take for granted, and which might not be available to people in other parts of the world or in other parts of your country? (I grew up with power shortages, and the internet connection was incredibly slow. So I am grateful for being able to rely on electricity and wifi!)
- When was the last time a stranger did something nice for you?
- What is the hardest thing you’ve had to do, which led to a major personal accomplishment?
- Describe one time when you truly felt at peace.
Get on with it!
So what do you think? Do you think this might be a habit you might keep? If you are already keeping a gratitude journal, do you find it helpful? Do you ever go back and look at what you have written so far?
Okay, if you excuse me now, I just thought of something to add in my journal! Happy journaling!
- I use the Gratitude Journal app which comes with daily quotes and without ads!