So often in life we are great at identifying shortcomings, faults, missed opportunities, and other annoyances. The effect of dwelling on such things can be feelings of frustration, irritation, and sadness. Perhaps it’s partly a by-product of our culture, but I think that in American society we often have difficulty being satisfied with what we do have because so much of our mental energy gets directed at what we don’t have. This isn’t a good thing to do…unless one desires to be frustrated and depressed.
Since the field of psychology began with Freud over 100 years ago, most of the attention has been on “mental illness” rather than “mental health.” In recent years, there’s been a movement in psychology known as “positive psychology,” spearheaded primarily by Dr. Martin Seligman, that focuses on strengths, virtues, and what makes us happy. He and others in the field have identified numerous strategies that promote happiness and well-being. One of those simple strategies that has been found to be effective in increasing happiness is the gratitude journal.
In using a gratitude journal, a person writes down a few things for which they are grateful on a daily basis. This does not have to have a religious or spiritual connection at all, although one can give thanks to God if that is their inclination. This does not have to be a diary…even a short bullet-pointed list will do. Writing in the journal consistently is important though. Also, positive things listed can be small…a talk with a friend, a tasty lunch, AC in the car, a warm bed to sleep in, etc. If we give gratitude for “big things,” then we miss out on the multitude of daily opportunities for which to be thankful.
The point starting a gratitude journal is that we take many things for granted in life. We don’t appreciate what we have enough. By keeping a gratitude journal, it begins to train our minds to “tune in” to these things more often. Eventually, we can catch them as they occur and feel a sense of gratitude and appreciation in the moment. Even on our worst days, we can usually find some things for which to be thankful.
Consider giving a gratitude journal a try for a couple of weeks as an experiment. It won’t hurt to try and maybe you’ll be grateful that you did. 🙂