Wednesday, August 19, 2015

7 Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal

Wow, I was surprised and humbled to see that several women commented on Facebook about yesterday's blog post that they felt inspired to start their own gratitude journal. I was thinking about that this morning while I ate breakfast and got the idea to share a few quick tips that have been helping me keep up with my gratitude journal. 

1. Write in something that makes you happy. That way, the first thing you can write down is your journal itself! I wrote about how a cute, but relatively inexpensive, notebook from Target is good for me. For you it might be a Moleskine notebook (rumored to be used by Hemingway himself and beloved by reporters) or a 1-subject spiral with an adorable kitten on it. You don't have to spend much money on it. Just make sure it's a dedicated notebook used only for these entries. The point I'm getting to: if your journal makes you happy, you're more likely to write in it! 

2. That being said, don't put off starting until you find the "perfect" notebook. The book doesn't matter nearly as much as your words do.

3. Keep a writing instrument with it at all times. I use a pencil because I'm a grammar freak who hates to cross out when I make corrections, but a pen is fine. Hide it if you need to, if the "pen fairies" visit your house and steal all your pens, the way they do at mine. I tend to write in my journal right before bedtime or if I get a minute during the day. If I have to spend ten minutes looking for something to write with and probably getting distracted while I'm looking, the moment may be lost. If you have a pen handy, you're more likely to write in your journal!

4. Don't be overly concerned with "correctness." This journal is for YOU. It doesn't matter if you spell every word correctly (just ignore what I said up there about making corrections. I'm a freak and you shouldn't follow my example. Plus it's quick and easy for me to make quick edits.) I don't even use complete sentences most of the time (gasp!) I use a bulleted list like this:

  • I had more energy today & I felt so much happier. Thankful.
  • Went through the school uniforms . Also decluttered closets, which inspired Justin to get a bunch of his clothes ready to donate.
  • Fun conversations playing 94% [an iPhone trivia app] and just talking with L.

 5. I like my entries to be as specific as possible. In the example above, obviously the first entry was pretty general. The second two, though, named specific activities and help me remember exactly what went on that made me happy. The great part about this is that your gratitude journal helps capture little moments of this stage in your life that you might otherwise have missed! The third bullet reminds me that my son loved playing this game with me and how it started lots of fun conversations.

6. Try to write in it regularly. I usually don't do it every day, but I still make it a habit to jot something down every 2 or 3 days at least. If I don't, I'm pretty sure I'll stop doing it. 

7. Occasionally read back over your entries and smile!


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Why I'm Keeping a Gratitude Journal

Justin asked me the other day why I hadn’t been writing 750 words a day like I had been doing on a website called, which is designed to help you write every day by giving you little checkmarks for every day you write in a row and also notifying you when you reach 750 words. It’s all private and is exactly like writing on your own computer except for the desire to keep those check marks uninterrupted and the fact that it costs $5.00 a month. For a couple of months I was meeting my goal most days. So why did I stop?

I stopped writing when my depression and anxiety overtook me a few months ago, and writing was not on my agenda at all, not even a little bit. I felt I shouldn’t spend even $5.00 a month when I wasn’t writing for the foreseeable future. In fact, at the time I felt I wouldn’t ever be able to write, or enjoy reading, or actually enjoy anything ever again, because that is the kind of lie that depression tells.

Then I saw my doctor and added a new medication. I got better, and I reveled in reading again. Every book seemed better than the last! I enjoyed the heck out of lots of things that had become meaningless while I was in the grip of the Black Dog, including shopping, eating, and social media. At first I only wrote comments on Facebook and Twitter because I still felt fragile and didn’t know what to write about, even in a private journal. A few weeks later, I decided to start and keep a gratitude journal, as the research is conclusive that keeping one does help stave off the grim demon called Depression. I’ve started several such records in the past, only to quit when things got so busy that I didn’t write anything for months. Sometimes life was good-busy and sometimes it was stressful-busy. That, I tell myself with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, is exactly when you need a gratitude journal.
This is a brain after the person has been keeping a gratitude journal. The highlighted area shows increased dopamine, which is a "reward" neurotransmitter that feels goooood.
So now I keep it on my nightstand beside my bed. A few days may go between recording something, but at least a couple of times a week I take a few minutes to count my blessings--not just general ones, like family, friends, and a roof over my head. Specific things, like this entry from July 13:
  • I had more energy today & I felt so much happier. Thankful.
  • Went through the school uniforms . Also decluttered closets, which inspired Justin to get a bunch of his clothes ready to donate.
  • Fun conversations playing 94% [an iPhone trivia app] and just talking with L.

Probably my favorite entry so far, though, is this one from July 18:
  • Great talk with L about angels (good and evil) and Minecraft. Longish car rides are perfect to get kids to open up.

[And if you are wondering what angels have to do with Minecraft--well, I am right there with you. I think there’s really no connection, except that my 9 yo son is currently incapable of talking for more than 45 seconds before he says, “Well, in Minecraft…” And that’s when I nod and say “Uh-huh” and “Wow” while he talks about things I do not understand at all. Unlike angels. This preacher’s daughter can expound on heavenly beings.]

I want to remember those little moments that are going on in my life right now, at this specific stage. I wish I had done this all through my kids’ babyhood so I wouldn’t be wondering, “Which one of them insisted that a stuffed Chihuahua Beanie Baby was a cat, and in the middle of an argument about it, I had an epiphany that it wasn’t worth arguing with a toddler about?” If I’d recorded that epiphany, I’d know.

Oh well, I can always start now. And there’s always Facebook.

As far as keeping up with the fragmented yet continuous record of our lives: it helps that the little notebook I’m writing in is small and pretty, but not so fancy that I feel my words have to live up to its binding. I love beautiful journals, but I’ve faltered about 25% of the way through so many gorgeous leather-bound blank books. This one has a cardstock cover, mint green, with Chapter 1 printed on the front in gold. It came in a pack of 3 from Target; the other two are white and pink, and (you guessed it) say Chapter 2 and Chapter 3. Cost: about $6.00 at Target. I bought them for some other reason but they are perfect for this.

For some reason the lighting in my bedroom didn't make it look green!

Besides this fragmented journaling, which admittedly seeks out the good at the expense of the very real irritations and sorrows of life (mind you, I don’t need reminding to dwell on the negative), I do intend to write at least 750 words a day. My job gives me plenty of time in which to do so, and it’s a much better use of my time than endlessly refreshing Facebook and watching cute animal videos. Even if I don’t have time at work, I no longer have to spend my evenings grading papers, and my husband and offspring often vanish after dinner to spend time with their electronic devices; I might as well do the same with mine.

All that to say, I have hope that out of 750 words a day, a few of them will be worth putting on this here blog. And that is going to be the first sentence in tonight’s gratitude journal entry.