Keeping a gratitude journal is easy, right?
You spend five minutes once a day writing down what you’re grateful for. You start to realize how much you have and because you already feel rich, more good things flow into your life.
Or is it? I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal for the past year and a half and have learned some unexpected things about myself.
Here are five things you might start to learn if you take up gratitude journaling:
1. You are going to learn what you really, really like, because you are going to be writing about it constantly.
I really, really like food. Nearly every day, my gratitude journal includes at least one description of how much I like goat cheese or how I’m grateful I can eat honey by the spoonful straight from the jar. I did not know this about myself before I started gratitude journaling—why do I still eat gross fast food crap when I love the good stuff so much? Learning what makes you happy can take your blinders off and help you see where you are choosing less than the best for yourself.
2. You are going to learn just how acquisitive you can be, even for the intangible.
Sometimes I feel like the person with a huge sticker or stamp collection (does anyone collect those anymore?), always greedy for more and territorial about what I have. Not only do I record what I am grateful for, I make damn sure I include every last moment from my day that felt good or nourishing. Collect them all, right? If I don’t write it, I can’t prove that I noticed it and am therefore a good little gratitude journal writer. But really, the excessive pressure I put on myself here doesn’t feel good and I am learning that gratitude doesn’t have to be a contest I have with myself. There’s no one to beat, remember?
3. You are going to learn what does and doesn’t motivate you to keep a commitment to yourself.
I’ve told myself on many nights, falling into bed, that I’m just too tired for gratitude. Sometimes I make it up to myself by writing in the morning…and sometimes I let it slide. And sometimes, I pull myself out of bed, five minutes after I’ve turned the light off and make myself write. If it’s too easy to justify the bargains you make with yourself, you’re probably cheating yourself.
4. You are going to learn what you do when the bright side of things is just a slightly less dingy version of the dark side.
One evening, as I was making dinner after a tough day, I accidentally spilled half of my pasta into the sink as I was draining the water out of the pot. I hadn’t cleaned my sink in a long time—there went my dinner into a black hole of grime! I still had to think of something to write in my gratitude journal for that day, so I wrote that I was grateful that I hadn’t spilled my whole dinner into the sink. I was actually able to lighten up after that and now I laugh every time I go back and read that entry.
5. You are going to learn that you really, truly are rich.
I have clean running water. I have a roof over my head. I have electricity. I have people who love me. I’m doing pretty well. I may not have a clue how my life is going to turn out or how I am going to get out of the cramped box my fixed ideas about myself have put me in (although I keep exploring the limits of that box) but my life is not without grace.
We’re all told at some point that we should be grateful for these simple things. It can feel like a trick to make us stop our complaining and be grateful we don’t have it worse than we do, completely ignoring the very real pains and disappointments we all experience regularly.
I have found, though, that using my gratitude journal to help me pay attention to what would otherwise be unacknowledged background noise in my life opens my eyes and shifts my perspective. I start to see more clearly that I did nothing to be born into the place in the world I occupy and I enjoy many unearned privileges, every day.
Instead of feeling guilty about this, I feel deeply responsible to life.
So, even if I am a food-obsessed, greedy, inconsistently motivated, darkly-humored gratitude journal writer, I have learned a lot about living through my practice.
Want to start your own?
Jayleigh Lewis is a writer who will one day write a book. She currently works as a spiritual advisor to college students as well as a freelance editor. She has a dream that one day humans will remember the integral role ceremony has in our lives and will learn to create sacred spaces within which intention may manifest. Learn more about her dream and read more of her words on her blog.
Ed: Bryonie Wise
Like elephant I’m not “Spiritual.” I just practice being a good person on Facebook.