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 750words.com, 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.


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