Ever wondered if the buzz around the benefits of gratitude journalling has any truth to it? To find out, content writer Stacey Carter kept one for four weeks…
Keeping a diary is one of the things that, as a writer, you feel that you should do, but probably don’t. In terms of content, it would be a great source of future inspiration. However, for me, a fear of somebody finding a diary that contained all my weird and nonsensical thoughts, and a firm belief that if I re-read my own work too much, I’ll potentially lose faith in my ability to write altogether, has meant that the cons of having a journal have always far outweighed the pros for me. But gratitude journalling, as my editor pointed out, is different. You’re not blurting out your deepest secrets to an anonymous entity, or writing humorous anecdotes in a confessional Bridget-Jones-esque style.
You’re simply reflecting on what you’re grateful for. In fact, it’s scientifically proven that people who regularly make time for gratitude journalling experience fewer aches and pains, feel happier, are less likely to become depressed, and have an increased sense of self-esteem. It can even help you drift off to sleep better, according to the Journal of Applied Psychology: Health and Wellbeing, which revealed that just 15 minutes of jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed can help you sleep longer. All the more reason to give it a go, I thought, considering the measly six hours that I was currently getting according to my SleepCycle app.
I decided early on that I’d keep my journalling to the morning because that was my preferred writing time, and therefore, it would be easy to jot down whatever came into my head. However, on the first morning, I sat for 20 minutes staring at a blank page. I wrote down the name of a friend I was grateful for, then immediately had doubts. Perhaps I should have documented what happened yesterday? What if I wrote down the moment a toddler, who was sat in front of me on a train journey to London, had grinned and offered me some of his drool-encrusted raisins? Or was that too specific? I decided I was overthinking it and chose to write down whatever came into my head. By Friday, and after four days of gratitude journalling, I realised that firstly, just because something seems trivial or simple, it doesn’t make it any less important or impacting. And secondly, by documenting these moments, you instantly feel a shift in your mindset. If it’s a specific moment, you relive it when you write it down, and if what you’re grateful for is a person, object or something you’ve read, you instantly remember the feeling it gave you. When, at the end of the first week, one of my friends asked how I was getting on with keeping the journal, I summarised it as ‘a morning shot of positivity.’
While I believed that gratitude journalling would make me happier, I was sceptical that it would help me sleep better, feel less stressed, and stop any aches and pains. But after the first week, I definitely noticed that it took me longer to become stressed. It was also helpful if I was having a particularly frantic day (the kind where I don’t look away from my computer screen and somehow eat my entire supply of desk drawer chocolate) as I could look back and see the physical evidence of all the good things that had happened the day before. It was a constant reminder that there was always something that I could be grateful for that week.
After a busy couple of days, in which I found myself getting up later than usual, I missed a few sessions of gratitude journalling. This was partly because I was stretched for time, and also because I’d had a particularly dull weekend, and convinced myself that I wouldn’t be able to write anything anyway. On Friday, I grabbed the journal and stuffed it in my bag, deciding that doing it in the office would be better than not doing it at all. At lunch, I sat at my desk and had a good long think. Fast forward 10 minutes and all I had managed to come up with was, ‘a conversation with my yoga teacher’, and ‘brie.’ I felt annoyed. The lack of words on the page was a representation of my inactivity over the past few days. It guilt-tripped me into firing off a few pitches to my editor, and booking the Pilates class that I’d been promising myself I’d do for weeks. It became obvious that by journalling regularly, you start to see what’s impacting you. So, if most of your days are starting to feel less journalworthy, it’s time to switch up your routine.
Halfway through the month, I’d already decided that I wanted to try and keep gratitude journalling up, but I knew that, without the obligation of this feature, I probably wouldn’t do it every day. But that, I decided, was OK. I could rely on gratitude journalling to be there, the same way I could ring an old friend, knowing that they’d pick up. It didn’t escape me that being able to write in it regularly meant having the privilege of some quiet time to yourself – something that can be extremely hard to carve out. But in truth, there are no hard rules for keeping a gratitude journal. You can do it on paper, on your computer, or even on your phone. If you want to do it daily, that’s fine. But if, like me, you only have time to do it a few times a week, that’s also OK. I learnt not to think too much about it. Just jot down the first thing that comes to mind, and then put it away. That way, you can look back on it and reminisce.
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