It’s very easy to be negative in our world, today. From politics to violence to personal conflicts, it is rare that I make it through the day with some form of commercial or personal conflict to overcome, and it seems that our society is geared to notice the negative. The timeless journalistic adage is that things that bleed are leading stories, and ratings and sales love to focus on conflict. However, if we focus on conflict, what kind of lives will be the outcome, and how will it impact our mental, emotional, and physical health? What if we could reverse the damage and benefit ourselves, instead? We can through a little internal focus adjustment in noticing the good. Taking time to practice gratitude has is a gift we give ourselves to improve our whole lives.
Trust me, I know how it feels to be wronged and feels that something must be done to offset the karmic deficit on those that wronged you. However, I also know what toll it can take upon your life. Eight years ago, I got divorced to get away from someone that had taken many years worth of negative toll upon myself. I enjoyed the peace of knowing I was free, and she would no longer be able to dominate my life choices. However, seeing her rewarded with a rich life of her parents while I struggled was hard. Further, sharing a child gave her ample opportunities to attempt to harm me through the child, while I could not respond at all.
However, the lesson that I learned was that this was taking a toll upon me by my own permission, while she was not even aware of any stress to be had. The bitterness of retained anger burned me and affected my own life, while she was living happily. Maya Angelou said about bitterness, “Bitterness is cancer – It eats upon the host.It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure.” (1)
That is how it was for me, too. I found myself distracted and distraught by not only the past but every little thing she did, after. The wounds of the past were still opening and bleeding. However, those were self-inflicted wounds. I began to understand that the level of happiness we find in our lives is a product of what we set in front of our eyes and reinforce, daily. That was when I began to journal about the positive things I could find in each day and practice gratitude. The outcome was phenomenal, and you can share in the results in your own life.
Keeping a Gratitude Journal
As stated, finding negative things about which to talk is built into society and ingrained into our psyche from our culture. It doesn’t take extra work to identify those. However, it takes a little work in order to identify the good things, at first. After you become more practiced in doing it, finding the positive things will become a second nature. An old Native American tradition says that all of us have competing wolves that are trying to dominate our nature, and the wolf “you feed” will be the one to win. (2)
You might be thinking, “Why do I need to keep a journal, instead of just making an effort to notice those things around me that are positive?” Berkeley University’s Greater Good organization says about the effort to Practice Gratitude.
“[Robert] Emmons points to research showing that translating thoughts into concrete language – whether oral or written – has advantages over just thinking the thoughts: It makes us more aware of them, deepening their emotional impact.”(3)
When you hear something or see something, it has an impact. However, it has a greater impact on you when you think about it. It has the greatest impact when you tell others or tell yourself, and a journal is a great way to do that.
Structuring Your Journal
Just as how you live your life and find the positive items, the structure of your journal is a personal choice. However, here are a few tips for putting together your journal.
1. Set aside time required to do the journal.
The first point of conflict that you will face in the creation of this journal is feeling that you don’t have the time to do it. Even 30 seconds of gratitude practice can have amazing impacts on your life. However, more is better. Set aside at least 10 minutes a day to reflect on what you saw in your day. It may take longer, if you have a lot of daily distractions to remove from your mind, first.
2. Make your journal personal.
Resist the temptation to make your journal formal or to list only those things you would want others to see. Make your journal as personal as you are, and keep it under lock and key. This is not for publishing to make yourself feel better. It is for personal recording and reflection, so be as personal with your positives, as well.
3. Praise yourself.
While you may find a lot of other things to praise about your day, spend a little time each day finding something good to praise about yourself. It may be as simple as noting that you were funny to the guy you liked, wore a cute outfit, or made it to class or work on time. However, when you take more time to focus on your personal successes, it will work to build your self-esteem and confidence, as well.
4. Make your positives .. positive.
It is important to make sure that your positive reflections are positive, meaning that you are listing things that you found that were intrinsically good, instead of noticing how things are better than others. When we use the comparison to identify the good things, we are still feeding the negative wolf.
5. Reflect on what you wrote.
After you have written your piece for the day, take a little time to think about what you have written, especially the things about yourself. One of the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal is that you have a written testimony of good things, witnessed by yourself. That is a good thing to have to dispel the doubts that arise in our hearts or minds at various times or to put down negative things that we hear from others.
When you put all of this into practice, you will start seeing a change in how you view your days and your mood living in it. There is scientific proof that when you practice gratitude it can lessen anxiety and depression, as well as making you a happier person that wants to share that happiness with others.
That change in mood and vitality can put a spring in your step, when you make it a practice of reflecting on gratitude in your journal, when you wake up. You will enter each day more prepared to handle what challenges may come, because you drew confidence in the good that you read from prior days.
Keeping a gratitude journal is also a great way to fall to sleep at night. Taking the time to force a reflection on the good that can be found in your days will help to ward off worry that may work to keep you awake, when you would rather be sleeping. This added rest of your mind in sleep will also benefit your mood in the next days, as well.
In the end, none of us wants to live in negativity. That’s why people complain about it. However, we have power over how much influence negative things will have over our lives. Taking the time, each day, to practice gratitude will allow us to live those lives more fully and more happily, and maintaining a journal to practice gratitude is just one of many keys to making that life truly satisfying.