“He is a man of sense who does not grieve for what he has not, but rejoices in what he has.” –Epictetus
First let me give a few props. I would like to thank jcshakespeare for giving me the idea for this post in his comment on one of my almost daily Gratitude Journal entries. I would like to thank Teresa Romain for the idea of keeping such a journal.
So, how has this Gratitude Journal idea changed my life? The gratitude journal is one of the tools in my arsenal to keep me focused on the positive, to slant my outlook towards the optimistic and away from negativity and pessimism. The vast majority of input in our lives is negative. This makes it imperative to conciously find ways to program your mind positively.
This is also a consumer driven society. There is constant pressure to acquire more and more. Some folks say that advertising doesn’t work on them, but if that were really true would companies spend untold billions on advertising? I think not.
So I combat all of that by taking time every day to think of and list the things I already have be they material things, events, or people, for which I’m thankful. And it can be something as simple as clean, fresh water. Millions of people die around the world from the lack of clean fresh water. So how thankful should I be that my family and I can just walk up to the tap and get clean, fresh water right in our kitchen? Or we can take a step to the right and get filtered water from the refrigerator. We often take it for granted, but for most of the world this is a big deal.
The second part of my journal focuses on acknowledging myself. My grandmother used to say, “Sometimes you have to toot your own horn!” It’s true and not just for other people to acknowledge what you’ve done, but for your own mental health. How many times have you taken a wrong turn and said to yourself something along the lines of I’m so stupid! Well, it was just a simple mistake. You’re not stupid, but it is very easy to focus on the negative things you do, your failures.
With this part of the journal I focus on the good things I do, no matter how small. Instead of thinking about how I didn’t get my full 45 minute walk in today, I acknowledge myself for walking fifteen minutes. Rather than focusing on how much I didn’t do, I focus on what I did accomplish. Gradually those accomplishments become bigger or have greater impact, but you’ve got to start somewhere. Baby Steps!
Now not only do I make these lists, I limit them to 10 items each. I don’t want to set myself up to feel bad when I can’t figure out 20, 30 or more items to list. Again, more is not always better. On the other hand, if you can’t think of 10 things to be thankful for or good things to acknowledge yourself for, you should stop and really examine your thoughts. There’s always someone in worse shape than you are. There is someone with more debt, a worse disease, who has been out of work longer, whatever than you who has a better attitude. That someone is still trying, still striving and still smiling. Why not you? Why not me?
One more thing. This journal also helps me to remember to say thank you to others for even the smallest daily tasks. It helps me remember to say thank you to my spouse for making coffee in the mornings. So many things we take for granted that are real blessing in life.