Grateful Writing

This morning, it clicked. After 30 days of simply following best-practice advice, today, I finally get it.

Last month, I made a personal commitment to spend five minutes each morning writing in a “gratitude journal.” I set the timer on my phone, pick up a notebook given to me for just this purpose more than a year ago, and write sentences until the timer goes off. Each sentence begins: “I am grateful for …”

In the past 30 days, I have managed to make 28 entries, which means this has lasted about 26 days longer than any of my previous attempts to begin a daily practice of gratitude. All such attempts have been made because I know that research—both secular and religious—shows people who are blessed with an attitude of gratitude also are blessed with better physical and mental health and just seem to enjoy life more.

This isn’t news – Google the phrase “attitude of gratitude” and you’ll get more than 4 million hits in less than a quarter of a second. (Google – there’s something I have so far neglected to include in my gratitude journal.) Research also shows people can take steps to increase their levels of gratitude, and keeping a daily journal is one of the tactics that is recommended most often.

I’ve known all that in my head for years, but I have struggled to make it a reality in my life. I’m not exactly sure why this latest attempt has gone better, but I suspect it has something to do with finally finding a structure that gives me a place to start–“I am grateful for”–and a timer that promises me a place to end. (To give credit where credit is due: the sentence opener idea came from a lesson on productivity by Ed Gandia of the International Freelancers Academy.)

I’ve neglected my five minutes of gratitude practice a few times in the past 30 days for various reasons, but today was the first day that I almost skipped intentionally.

I just didn’t feel very grateful this morning. In fact, I was downright grumpy. Nagging health irritations, too little sleep, too much to do. I didn’t think I could find anything to be grateful for.

I forced myself sit down anyway, picked up the journal, set the timer, and wrote my first intro: “I am grateful for …” Most days, concrete examples come to mind immediately, but today I had to dig a little deeper.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to go very far before I started uncovering some real gems: cooler weather but a warm and dry house. My marriage to a faithful and hard-working man who has been steady as a rock for almost 27 years. Two healthy sons. Parents and sisters who love me and support me.

The timer went off. I put down my pen and realized that I was no longer feeling grumpy; I was breathing more deeply; my shoulders were relaxed. Ah, so this is what it’s all about!

Although I had taken some joy from my previous 27 gratitude entries, today marked the first day I felt markedly different at the end of my five-minute writing period.

I’ve read that it takes at least 21 days to create a new habit; well, I’m on Day 30 and Entry 28, so I hope I’m well on my way. But until today, I’ve been plugging away because I’ve been told it’s good for me.

Now I have a profoundly personal motivation to persevere.

And for that, I am grateful.

September 18, 2013

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  1. Maybe I should start a gratitude journal. I have more-than-usual to be thankful for lately, and a bunch of aches & pains to help me forget it too often.

    A friend once did a 365 Day Thankful Challenge on her blog, where once a week she’d post her roundup from the previous week – one thing to be thankful for, every day of the year, different each day. I think I might give it a go!

    • Cassie, this would be a great time in your life to give it a go! I bet the 365 Day challenge was fascinating to read — for your friend and everyone else. I’m glad I’ve managed to keep this one going for a whole month; and posting about it publicly should help me be more accountable too. I hope you’re feeling well — or as well as you can at this point.

  2. Tammy, I love this idea and I think I’ll start trying this at least some mornings. If I get no other benefit out of it, it’ll at least loosen up my pen and get me in a positive head space for the day.

    • Jan, I have tried something like this multiple times, but I didn’t stick with it until I started it as a way to help get me into work mode in the mornings. Not sure what that says about me, but I’m glad to note that I have seen both practical and spiritual benefits from following this routine for almost three months now.