I grew up as a child of the ‘90s Oprah craze. My mom LOVED everything Oprah. Sick days spent home on the couch and school holidays often felt like a special treat because of daytime TV, and we never missed an opportunity to watch her afternoon talk show. Book clubs hosted in our house almost always met to debrief on Oprah’s book selections, and my mom subscribed to O Magazine as soon as it became available. As a faithful student of Oprah Winfrey, my mom talked to me a lot about the concepts of simple abundance and gratitude. For the past two decades, she has continued encouraging me to focus on my blessings and to jot them down consistently in a gratitude journal.
Over the years, I’ve come in and out of making a gratitude journal a daily practice. I’ve never been much for meditation, but I do appreciate the importance of taking time out for regular mindfulness. Learning how to navigate this whole adulting thing can sometimes feel pretty stressful and overwhelming, and I’ve found that focusing on life’s positive elements and taking the time to write them down can help put my daily frustrations in perspective. Still, I have never been very disciplined about gratitude journaling, so I decided to commit to the practice for two weeks straight to see how it would make me feel.
I studied several blogs about gratitude before starting my experiment. The idea of a gratitude journal is to consciously record moments of joy in your life. Writing down your everyday blessings allows you to keep your positive thoughts organized and to reference them during more challenging times. Gratitude experts caution against writing things down “just to hit a quota,” instead encouraging people to really feel appreciation for the items they are listing.
Although the blogs I read were fuzzy on the ideal way to keep up with a gratitude journal, I decided that I would commit to writing in mine every single day for two weeks, jotting down five things per day. I bought a set of colorful pens and unwrapped a super cute notebook gifted to me by my best friend when I decided to leave my corporate job (it seemed like the perfect way to use it!), spicing it up a little extra with a few fun stickers.
When it came time to write my first official entry, I felt myself smiling as I thought back on my day and the small moments that had made it better. I found joy all over again in the spoonful of vanilla frosting I had eaten mid-day, even though I had regretted it at the time. I wrote about both concrete items and bigger picture “stuff” that affected my life beyond the 24-hour period I was writing about. Focusing on the positive was a nice way to bookend my day and left me getting ready for bed in high spirits.
finding daily moments of joy
For the most part, my time with my journal continued in much the same way for the rest of the two weeks. Most nights, it was fairly easy to come up with five items to list. After days that had been more challenging, though, I’ll admit that the process was a lot trickier. Flipping through the pages of the notebook now, I can tell that there were days that I had to work harder to finish up my entries — “talking on the phone on Bluetooth while I drive” and “eating my usual breakfast” were particularly uninspired contributions. Lack of excitement aside, I realize it’s a pretty amazing exercise in perspective to look back and see that items like those — while boring and predictable — are still more than worth my gratitude because I’m lucky enough to have them at all.
As with establishing any habit, the hardest part of this experiment was remembering to make the time for it each night. It was easy enough to write up my colorful list for the first week, but by the second week, I found myself routinely getting back out of bed to complete it after I’d already settled in. I was always happy that I’d written in my gratitude journal, even if there were moments when it felt like a chore to prioritize it.
My favorite thing about committing to the journal was the quiet time it gave me each day. Even better than that, the time I took to work on it always felt positive. It allowed me to reflect me on how I’d spent my time. What I found myself appreciating the most in these reflections was random conversations, mostly with strangers and people in my neighborhood. I wrote about the friendly chat I had with the women who work at the front desk at my gym and the cashier at the grocery store who had been so nice when I was having a bad day. It’s easy to forget casual exchanges like these, but when you really think about it, they go such a long way toward keeping our days interesting and meaningful.
I have yet to experience the health benefits from a gratitude journal that I read about on several blogs — particularly improved sleep, which I was really hoping would be true! Still, maintaining the journal as part of my daily routine did make me feel good, especially on days when I needed a boost. Looking through two weeks worth of entries, I also realize that this kind of journaling is a really fun way to keep a record of my favorite things — and it makes me smile to remember each and every one.
Do you keep a gratitude journal? Tweet us @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty, Alli Hoff Kosik)