Post No.: 0261
One way to take a regular moment to reflect on things to be thankful for, rather than take them for granted, is to keep a regular gratitude journal. This habit helps you to take conscious notice of, savour and remember the better things in life and not presume they were inevitable, especially the deeper sources of goodness.
Every week in a journal or diary, think of and write down 5 good things from your past week – things that went well or happy things that happened. Describe each event or experience in detail (e.g. who was involved, what caused it, why it happened, what was said and done and by whom, why you’re grateful for them/it/the moment, your feelings about it at the time and now, and why it came to pass?) But don’t make the entries too long if you can help it. Small or big things are all fine. Be grateful for the negative outcomes you’ve avoided, escaped or prevented too.
Be motivated to feel happier when writing in this journal of yours, and really feel and savour what you’re writing. Go for depth rather than breadth. Focus on specific and detailed reasons to thank people/things/the world for, rather than lots of cursory or generic things. Get personal – gratitude towards other people is the best. Mentally note what life would be like without the blessing as well as with it, how life would be without certain people as well as with them. Savour the surprises and the unexpected too. You could also write down things that you’re grateful for looking forwards to because savouring the anticipation of a future event can improve our happiness too.
Now trying to list lots of things to be grateful for can be counterproductive if you cannot think of enough things to fill a long list – so don’t purposely aim to think of more than 5 per week, or if you’d rather spread the task out over the week then don’t write for more than 3 times per week with 1 to 3 things to be grateful for each time. Or alternatively, spend 3 minutes thinking of things without a quota or target. It’s probably best for most people to not do this journal exercise daily because constantly writing about the same blessings might make us mentally adapt to them i.e. don’t overdo it. So try to write about new or different things each week or hone onto a different aspect in detail each time. Do be disciplined though and have a regular day of the week and time that you attend to your journal. Don’t just go through the motions – feel that warm and wholesome feeling this exercise gives. It’s not a chore but a time dedicated for you. See each entry as a gift. Woof!
Filling in a gratitude journal at night improves one’s sleep quality, lowers stress and therefore improves one’s furry health. Thinking about and savouring the good moments and the positive trains the mind in turn to become more inclined to take notice of a positive event that has just happened to you (a positivity bias). It helps counteract hedonic habituation (i.e. taking the good, and others, for granted) and lowers our threshold of appreciation for everyday events. Savouring such positive memories makes them easier to later retrieve from memory too, and on the whole encourages us to interact with life at the present more positively. We also re-interpret past stressful events more positively and therefore it encourages growth or moving on.
Knowing that you keep a gratitude journal also prompts you to actively seek and seize moments that’ll result in gratitude so that you can write about them (e.g. paying more attention to the beauty in nature and your surroundings when you normally would not spend the time to notice them at all). So the journal prompts you to pay attention to, as well as to seize, the positive events down the road and more fully, when in anticipation, then in the moment, and when later recording it in your journal.
It’s important to analyse and learn from bad events and threats but we can think too much about what went wrong or could go wrong, and not enough about what goes right in our lives – a gratitude journal encourages us to take note of what goes right or well and to not neglect them or treat them with a sense of entitlement. Doing so makes us more attuned to everyday sources of pleasure around us as we live, hence gratitude training will train you to be more aware of the good, to make a negative event take a more positive angle when one happens, and to reflect more positively on your past, as you live your day-to-day life (so not just when you’re formally sitting down trying to fill in your journal). Gratitude simply highlights and amplifies the good in one’s life!
Take a few moments after each session to imagine how life would be without these people/things/events you normally take or risk taking for granted (‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’) then shift your mind back to what actually happened or the present and the benefits or pleasure they brought or bring to you. You’ll learn to appreciate them more because now you know they weren’t guaranteed.
You could also keep a gratitude jar to remember your reasons to be cheerful and thankful, and donate the contents to charity or use it to buy a gift for someone you’re really grateful for. You could also use visual reminders of the people/things/events you are grateful for, such as photographs or souvenirs.
A gratitude letter is a letter of gratefulness written for someone who did something for you and you haven’t thanked yet. This exercise is especially effective if you read the letter to them in person, or via a video chat or phone call.
Write about what they specifically did, why you’re grateful for them and how they impacted your life. Describe what you’re doing now and how often you remember the effects of this person’s efforts on you. About 300 words or 1 page is sufficient. Deliver it with no interruptions, and pay attention to their and your reactions. Discuss your feelings together afterwards, and leave a copy of this letter with them.
Writing and using concrete language (and talking out loud), rather than just thinking about a feeling, makes us more aware of the blessings we have, thus deepening their impact. This thoughtful and deliberate letter is much better than a fleeting thanks, for both parties involved. This exercise reminds you of how others have cared for you and valued you, meaning that things will feel less lonely or bleak. Repeat this exercise with someone else every month or every few months.
But do be aware, however, that in a few situations, especially in collectivist cultures, it might be insulting to write a gratitude letter to a particular person – as if it’s implied that generosity or what they did was not the expected norm. There are therefore some cultural differences we need to be aware of when it comes to expressing gratitude.
Similar to keeping a gratitude journal, you could keep a humour journal where you note 3 things that made you laugh each day. Like all happiness exercises though, it’s not for everyone since there’s no ‘one size fits all’, but these activities are all worth a try.
Woof! In my gratitude journal today, I’m going to write about being thankful for Fluffystealthkitten’s delicious tide grouper carpaccio that she shared with me, and for you reading my blog :). If you’d like to, please share with us what has made you feel grateful in the past few days via the Twitter comment button below.