Confession time: I’ve never been great at keeping a journal. Just not my thing, even though I am a writer. But for more than a year and a half I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal.
I started out doing something called the examen which had its roots in The Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius. The gist of it is that at the end of the day, you write down the moment you are most grateful for as well as the moment you are least grateful for. The former cultivates gratitude, the latter awareness of possible patterns in life and areas that might need to be addressed.
After six months of doing the examen, I decided to change the way I spent those few moments in reflection. I simply wrote down what I was grateful for that day. Not that I ignored the bad or pretended it didn’t exist, just that I chose to focus on the positive.
What I have noticed from this little daily exercise is that slowly but surely, it is shaping my perspective. I am more optimistic. I am more content. I complain less. I am more in tune with the hundreds of blessings all around me in my day-to-day existence. I am more careful to choose my words because I truly believe they direct the course of my life.
Keeping a gratitude journal need not be difficult. First, choose a journal that you like. (Mine is pictured above with my favorite coffee mug.) My friend Patty bought me this beautiful leather-bound journal with a tree embossed on the cover and a bead and leather strap to secure it. I love the way it looks. It’s so me.
Next, decide how you will go about keeping your gratitude journal. Maybe you like the idea of the examen or simply jotting down something you are thankful for every day, as I do. Or maybe the thought of doing this daily feels like one more thing on your to-do list. Setting aside some time once a week might work better for you, then. Whatever you decide, I would suggest that you don’t beat yourself up over any missed days. It’s not about leaving a perfect record for every day or choosing a specific number of items you will list. The point of this practice is to change your attitude. Perfection has nothing to do with it.
Finally, choose a time of day that best works for you. Typically I will review the previous day the following morning, though not always. If something that morning occurs to me, I write it down. I have no set amount of items to list. Often I do about three, but I have listed anywhere from one to half a dozen. There are no rules, unless you make them.
Try it for yourself. You might be pleasantly surprised by your changed outlook!