Monday, January 9, 2012

Gratitude Journaling

A little while back, I guess it was almost two months ago, I was talking to a friend while she drove me home. Rather out of the blue, she asked me "well, how are you doing?" I gave some nondescript response, because, quite frankly, I wasn't feeling very good about life. She responded "I know if you were writing down five things that you're grateful for every day you'd be happier." At the time I was really annoyed. My knee-jerk thought-response was no, I'd be happier if my life hadn't just blown up, if I wasn't grounded, if I had my car back, if I was going to India, if I was getting into college, if I didn't feel so defeated. Just because you like gratitude journals don't mean they'll solve the world's problems. A gratitude journal isn't going to make a difference for me.
And then the next day, in some sign from the universe, I found this article about keeping a gratitude journal.

"In looking over this list, what strikes me is how keeping a gratitude journal—or perhaps the entire experience of gratitude—is really about forcing ourselves to pay attention to the good things in life we’d otherwise take for granted. Perhaps that’s why the benefits seem to diminish when you start writing more than once per week, and why surprises induce stronger feelings of gratitude: It’s easy to get numb to the regular sources of goodness in our lives.... gratitude journaling is really different from merely listing a bunch of pleasant things in one’s life."

For some reason, that was exactly what I needed. I was moved to tears (admittedly, I was feeling very emotionally fragile). The concept impacted me so strongly because it is not about creating things to be grateful for. Rather, it's about seeking out the ever-present goodness in life. So, though I felt like the world was joyless, I determined there had to be beautiful things I was missing.
I started making gratitude lists. The first few lists are short and the items are remarkably small and fairly empty: things like a good episode of Modern Family or Whimzy coming in to sleep in my room or a good passage in The Razor's Edge.
Then, one day, something clicked. Maybe it was because I was starting to feel like things really were going to be okay, and maybe it was because I had been gratitude journaling, but I had a moment when I understood why gratitude journaling was worthwhile. It’s important for me because taking time to specifically notice things that make me feel gratified – things like my navy school pants or a text from someone I'd never considered a close friend or the comment "Hannah, you're my favorite person ever" when I first walked into class or the opportunity to deliver the letter for the senior gift – and recognizing how significant they are in my life.
I make gratitude lists on scattered days when I don't have feelings, thoughts or quotes to write in my journal. I like it this way, because if I let it take me by surprise -- if I’m going through my day looking to be a grateful person rather than looking for things to write in my gratitude journal -- I know it's totally genuine. And guess what? I am happier: a deep down at-peace happiness. A happiness that means I have more perspective about what truly matters; that I can feel thankful even on darker days when I feel paralyzed, defeated, angry, and brokenhearted; that I can more freely give of myself. I’ve learned that goodness is omnipresent and that it can change me. All I have to do is keep my eyes out for it.
Here's my most recent list (from Saturday):
1. The color of my hair; It's a good rich winter color. I’ve never had it quite this dark, and when the light hits it right, it has a hint red.
2. Driving downtown and spending two hours doing the family grocery shopping at the Mecca (Whole Foods at Trolley Square).
3. A clean bathroom. I haven't cleaned out the drawers and shelves since I moved in when we remodeled it 7 years ago. Throwing away all the mostly-empty bottles, getting things sorted nicely, de-cluttering makes me feel healthy.
4. My English teacher bringing up a letter contest on an apparent whim. Writing that letter - taking time to think about what it meant to me – felt cleansing.
5. Semicolons. They’re my favorite type of punctuation. Every time I use one I think of the NYT article that said, “God is not an exclamation point, though. He is, at his best, a semicolon, connecting people”
6. Rachel Maddow taking down Romney. I've watched this clip about 6 times this weekend.

Ps. take this gratitude quiz if you dare.

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