I recently updated my “About Me” page on this site, and mentioned how I feel like I spent my twenties in a funk.
Even in my worst periods of pessimism or self-pity, I recognized a need to do something to make things better.
Somewhere around 2006 I created “40 Days of Positivity,” a Lent challenge.
I wanted to make positivity a habit.
For 40 days, I would write down at least three things I was grateful for. Every time I would verbalize something negative – complaining out loud, whining about something, etc. – I would write down an extra item I was grateful for.
Studies show that even just 15 minutes of concentrating on good things each day can spur chemical, measurable changes in the brain.
You can actually rewire the way your brain operates if you just notice more of the good things and train your brain to consider them.
Check out this post from 2010. This was the third year I’d challenged myself and you can see the beginnings of something good. It took three years of the challenge (and failing at it) to recognize the benefits.
It was in 2010 that I stopped trying to make my efforts public, and just started writing down the things I’m thankful for every day. Year-round. And I’ve kept going ever since.
Here’s how I do gratitude journaling
I use the Day One app for iOS. The app is great and worth the few bucks it costs, but keep an eye out as they’ll knock it down to free on occasion. Handwritten works great. So does Evernote.
I like Day One because it automatically pulls in environmental info, like physical location and weather. I can attach photos, steps taken, social posts, etc.
Day One notifies me to update right around bedtime each night, and it’s the last thing I do before closing my eyes to sleep. It’s important to me to imprint those good memories on
my brain during sleep. They often carry over to the next morning.
I specifically write six things I’m grateful for. Three things about the day in general (good workout, productive day, big win at work, fun family night at the movies, etc). Then three specific things about the three most important people in my life – my wife and my two kids.
Sometimes I share with my family the things I write about them. I’d like to do it regularly, but I’m still a bit shy about it. That’s not as important as the practice itself.
What Gratitude Journaling Does For Me
It helps me identify all of the good things in each day. I don’t write all of them down, but I do spend some time in reflection and usually find that there’s far, far more than six things I’m grateful for.
When I write specifically about my family, it impacts my interactions with them. They’re overwhelmingly amazing, and the moments of frustration I have are just that – moments.
My advice for you: Take a few minutes. Wait until everyone else is asleep, if need be. Then probe your mind for all of the good things that happened today.
Nothing is too basic: You awoke. You’re alive. A roof over your head. You had breakfast. Warm water for a shower. A smartphone to check email. Clothes to wear. Toothpaste that isn’t gross and deodorant that smells good.
That’s not even 30 minutes into your day, and you’ve already got a full gratitude list.
Make a note about them. Start with one or two. See how it feels, and you (or your brain) may decide to keep adding more, every day.