The Art and Grace of a Gratitude Journal

Previously on this blog I’ve written about the benefits of keeping a journal. Today I’d like to expand on that.

There are many types of journals–diaries, travel journals, food journals, etc, but there’s another kind of journal that does more than keep track of your life. There’s a journaling practice that’s been proven to reduce stress and improve happiness. It’s known as Gratitude Journaling.

There’s no doubt that every day we’re bombarded with negative images and messages. Everything in the world is (and always has been) dire. Everyone is stressed. And all of us eventually have to do things like pay taxes and attend funerals. If we only listened to the world around us, we’d never believe that anything good ever happens. We’d only believe that life is hard and then it’s over.

But there’s another way to look at life. Despite all of the difficulties found in adulting, there are also good times. There are weddings and comedy clubs and birthday parties. There’s the surprise reunion with an old friend and a last minute cup of tea with your neighbor who just happened to bring over homemade cookies warm from the oven.

A Gratitude Journal is one of those things in life that’s simple yet not easy. (Like dieting!) It’s nothing more than a daily record of your blessings, of things you’re grateful for, or even just the things that made you smile. It’s an accounting of the good things and people and moments of your life. Keeping a gratitude journal takes you out of the chaos in your head and allows you to clearly see the truth of your life, not what the mass media want you to believe.

There are no rules to keeping a gratitude journal. On simple way is to start by keeping a notebook by your bedside table and every night, before you go to sleep, write down five things you’re grateful for. It could be as simple as the fact the leftovers you had for dinner tasted better the second night. Or the unexpected text message with smiling emojis you received from a friend. It doesn’t matter what the five things are, just that you mentally review your day and record them.

Here are a few ideas to help you succeed:

  1. Write frequently, at least three times a week. Daily is even better. Regardless of how often you journal, pick a time of day and a place in which to work and be consistent. Do you want to journal in bed before going to sleep? During lunch in the patio behind your office building? Before dinner while your food is in the oven? Just pick one that works for you!
  2. While you’re recording these five things, be as specific as possible. When you read the entry over later, you don’t want to just remember the event or moment. You want to remember the emotions associated with it. Being specific amplifies gratitude. Saying you’re grateful that your neighbor brought over homemade cookies after she heard about your horrible day at work brings forth more emotions than just saying you appreciate your neighbors.
  3. Record events and moments that were complete surprises and how grateful you are for what happened. I don’t mean just surprise parties. It’s more about unexpected moments like someone paying for you coffee or a pretty card received in the mail.
  4. If you find yourself being grateful every day for the same thing (and that’s okay!), try to focus on a different aspect of this thing so you can elicit a different emotion. When good things happen, we often experience multiple emotions. See if you can describe the hidden ones.
  5. Treat all of these recordable events as gifts. Not like birthday presents, but like small gifts you weren’t expecting. Treating these moments like gifts helps foster gratitude.
  6. Don’t be afraid to list negative things that you’re grateful for. Sometimes negative things are a blessing in disguise, although it may take us time to realize that. But when you do suddenly realize why you didn’t get that job or why that person you dated once didn’t call you back is actually a good thing, write it down!
  7. Keep it pretty. This is not a rule, just a suggestion. By using different colored pens and washi tape and adding in small photos and postcards, etc, the journal becomes even more personal. Besides, sometimes it’s fun to write in different colors! For those who don’t like to decorate, choose a journal with paper you love and the perfect pen. When you love what you’re writing with, it becomes a joy instead of a chore.

Do you keep a gratitude journal? I’d love to know in the comments!


 

Sharon Wray is a librarian who once studied dress design in the couture houses of Paris and now writes about the men in her Deadly Force romantic suspense series where ex-Green Berets meet their match in smart, sexy heroines who teach these alpha males that Grace always defeats Reckoning.

Her acclaimed debut book EVERY DEEP DESIRE, a sexy, action-packed retelling of Romeo and Juliet, is about an ex-Green Beret determined to regain his honor, his freedom, and his wife.

Her second book, ONE DARK WISH, will come out September 24, 2019 and is available for preorder here: Amazon |  Barnes and Noble Books-a-Million | iBooks |  Google

EVERY DEEP DESIRE is available on: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | iBooks | IndieBoundKobo|  Google

The Secret Art of Journaling

“Everybody allows that the talent of writing agreeable letters is peculiarly female. Nature may have done something, but I am sure it must be essentially assisted by the practice of keeping a journal.” ~ Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey.

Despite Miss Jane’s quotation above, what do Marcus Aurelius, Louisa May Alcott, Thomas Edison, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Epictetus the Roman Slave have in common? They all kept extensive journals, recording their wistful desires, their secret needs, and the history going on around them. Journals that historians have found, read, and preserved for future generations.

While it’s fun to read other people’s words, especially those written during epic historical times, the beauty of these scribblings  is that they were never meant to be public. They were private conversations between the writer, his head, and his heart. I’m sure if Epictetus knew one day, over two thousand years after his death, that his journal would be one of the most important primary historical sources regarding Ancient Rome, he probably wouldn’t have bothered searching for ink and papyrus.

But if people didn’t journal for posterity, why did they bother?

To heal the mind.

A 2011 study in Science  found that students who journaled about their upcoming math exams had less anxiety about their tests and received higher grades. Why? The researchers believe that “…by acknowledging their fears, students were able to tame distracting emotions.”

Perhaps because writing slows down the mind, it’s a perfect way to examine your day, your worries, your joys, and all of the things going on around you. Journaling offers the writer a chance to lay out the disparate points of her life and make sense of it all. Often, when journaling, I realized I was happy/mad/annoyed/etc about a certain situation that on the surface seemed trivial. Writing things out by hand can be the best form of therapy, it helps you find patterns in your life that are both helpful and hurtful. Journaling releases unresolved or repressed emotions and fears.

Whether you’re new to journaling, or an expert, here are a few tips to up your diary game:

Best Time:

It may take practice to figure this out, but finding your optimum journaling time is key to making this a successful habit. In Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, she suggests morning pages. The writer writes first thing in the morning and fills three journal pages without stopping. The sentences can be non-stop, there can be off-color words and thoughts, it can even be a grocery or to-do list.  On the other hand, the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote every night after his wife went to bed. Supposedly, Seneca once confided, “I examine my entire day and go back over what I’ve done and said, hiding nothing from myself, passing nothing by.”

Best Journal:

Since this is a notebook where you’re going to bare your soul on a daily basis, it’s important you love what you’re writing in. That doesn’t mean it has to be fancy or expensive. It could be a legal pad or a college-ruled notebook. What it looks like doesn’t matter. What matters is it fits who you are and your writing style. The same goes for pens. Use what you love, not what’s in style.

Write Fast:

What this really means is as soon as you start writing, write as fast as you can to kill your inner editor.  If your inner critic can’t keep up as you skim along the pages, he’ll go away. The same advice works on your handwriting. If it’s messy, let it go. This is for your eyes only. Some writers I know say they never reread what they’ve written in their journals. They write their souls onto the page and move on. Neatness doesn’t matter.

Be Kind.

…to yourself. Your journal is your friend. If all you have to say one day is “I’m tired”, be kind to yourself and say “that’s okay.” Keeping a journal isn’t a race or a competition. It’s a private collection of thoughts that help you make sense of all the good and bad things you’ve experienced in the last twenty-four hours. The great thing about friends? They don’t expect you to be perfect. So let the perfection go.

Be Creative.

You can journal morning pages, or night-time reflections. Or you can keep a gratitude or prayer journal. I know others who keep vision journals where the write about the things they hope for in their lives. Then there are those who track their mood and health. What that Science journal found was that it didn’t matter so much what you were writing about. It was the act of writing that subdued a person’s anxiety.

It was the act of writing that brought peace.

And who doesn’t need more of that in their lives?


Sharon Wray is a librarian who once studied dress design in the couture houses of Paris and now writes about the men in her Deadly Force romantic suspense series where ex-Green Berets meet their match in smart, sexy heroines who teach these alpha males that Grace always defeats Reckoning.

Her acclaimed debut book EVERY DEEP DESIRE, a sexy, action-packed retelling of Romeo and Juliet, is about an ex-Green Beretdetermined to regain his honor, his freedom, and his wife.

EVERY DEEP DESIRE is available on: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | iBooks | IndieBoundKobo|  Google

Adding it to your Goodreads TBR list is also always appreciated!