The recent American Thanksgiving holiday (and Black Friday just after it) made me think about gratitude and happiness. Can you be thankful enough for the things you have to be happy or you need something more to bring happiness to your life?
I recently read a book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman. I must admit that I didn’t really bring me happiness I wanted. What it did is comfort me that negative thinking (or to phrase it better: not always positive thinking) is not the worst way of living. But that’s a subject for some other time.
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Now I want to write about Burkeman’s story about a place called Kibera (I think it’s in Nairobi, Kenya). Kibera is a slum on the outskirt of Nairobi, the people who live there have nothing. And when I say nothing it’s from my perspective. They have no running water, no toilets or electricity. But those people are much happier and less depressed than me, for example (and I have it all – and more).
The people of Kibera are much happier than most of the people from “first world” countries. You know why is that? Because they are grateful. They are grateful for the things they have rather than being depressed for the things they don’t have. That change in perspective makes all the difference.
It sounds like a simple mantra for leading a life full of happiness but it’s actually quite hard if you’re not used to it. Changing your perspective can change your life but it’s a very hard thing to do. That’s why we have a beautiful tool that can help us achieve that state – a gratitude journal.
A gratitude journal is like any other journal but with a change of perspective. It doesn’t have to be fancy or “deep”. The most important thing about the gratitude journal is your desire to change. A motivation that will lead you to your journaling daily. There’s a great quote by Zig Ziglar that fits here perfectly: “Motivation doesn’t last, just like bathing. That’s why we recommend it daily”. Just like with any other practice you need to work on it daily to make it into a habit – the same is with gratitude. It’s not easy in the beginning but in time, as you see the benefits, it changes your life.
So, where to start?
The best way to start is with baby steps. Take a plain notebook, or a beautiful one – it’s all up to you – and take a few minutes at the end of every day to write three things you are grateful for. Start with simple things like “I am grateful for having these few minutes for myself”. You can repeat the same things every day if you wish – there are no rules.
When you start thinking about things you are grateful for every day, the way you think starts to change. Don’t expect the change to come overnight, all great changes take time. You need to practice gratitude every day until it becomes natural to be grateful. When you start noticing only good things around you you’ll know you got to the point where your life has changed. You will find new things to be grateful for every day if you are consistent. Suddenly you’ll see how beautiful your life will become.
Of course, there will still be negative things in your life, you can’t escape them. But if you work on your gratitude your perspective will be shifted. You’ll see that you should be grateful for the negative things, too. Everything comes with its own lesson and with a change of perspective, you’ll see what those lessons are.
For example, I am grateful for the lack of money I had growing up because now I know its value and can appreciate it more. I am grateful for my ex-boss who was an asshole because I learned how to cope with idiots. And I am grateful for my lack of artistic skills because I’d never start an Ugly journal blog and help others like me. You see? You can turn negatives into positives if you only start changing your point of view.
Some studies found that gratitude journals work best if you add an explanation to the statement. Like: I am grateful for my job because it helps me to pay my bills. Or, I am grateful for my husband because he’s so supportive. That way you not only count your blessings but start thinking about the good things surrounding it.
Yes, I can say a bunch of negatives about my job or make a list of things I don’t like about my husband, but that’s the whole point of a gratitude practice: to find only the positives! It can really be beneficial when you start shifting the perspective to positives – your attitude changes too. Because – let’s take my husband as an example again 🙂 – I could freak out that he forgot the dishes again, or I can be grateful that he helps around the house. That distinction in perspective is everything and it changes your attitude towards it.
Every situation can be seen from both perspectives – it’s on you to choose which one you’d like more. And if you want to change your perspective and have a more positive stance, then gratitude journal is your thing. It will help you shift your perspective.
This quote from the show BoJack Horseman I mentioned in my post Journaling – the best free self-help therapy comes to mind again: “I wasted so many years being miserable because I assumed that was the only way to be.” Sometimes you really think that you can’t make your life happy and that the only way is to be as you are because you can’t change. Having a gratitude journal will most definitely bring happiness to your life. We are often so preoccupied with our troubles that we forget to count our blessings.
If you need help with starting your gratitude journal, there are always a bunch of ideas on Pinterest, or you can use something like a 365 Gratitude Journal that will guide you to through your daily gratitude sessions. If committing to a whole year seems overwhelming for a start maybe you should try a 30-day gratitude journal challenge. Every day for 30 days you write down 3 things you are grateful for. You can do it in the evening and reflect on that day, thinking of things you were grateful for that day. Or you can write it first thing in the morning, kind of like a meditation, to set the intention for the day before you.
The more you use gratitude in your life, the more good things you’ll see and you’ll ultimately be happier. Having a gratitude journal can only help in the process.
What are YOU grateful for today?