Practising gratitude – the benefits of gratitude journalling
We’re at the end of January; the fun and festivities of Christmas and New Year are well and truly over. All that remains of the celebrations are the dregs of a forgotten bottle of flat lemonade; the reject Coconut Eclairs in an otherwise empty tub of Quality Street; and a barely touched Christmas cake that mum insists on having every year; “because Uncle David likes it with a glass of sherry on Christmas Day.”
In the UK, the weather is usually cold and wet, and the nights are long. We’re back to work and studying after having had some time off, and it’s not uncommon to feel deflated. It can be difficult to feel thankful for anything when warmer weather and holidays seem so far away.
But as best-selling author and behavioural scientist Steve Maraboli once said: “happiness is a state of mind, a choice, a way of living; it is not something to be achieved, it is something to be experienced.”
So, how do we find happiness when everything around us is grey and uninspiring?
Imagine the situation. You’ve had a long day at work. You’re exhausted. You have a 45-minute drive home. On arriving at your car, you discover the passenger window smashed and your car broken into. You are ready to burst into tears.
After the initial shock, you clear the seats of glass and prepare for a (cold) journey home. At this point, you have a choice – become angry and bitter about the incident, the inconvenience and expense it’s caused, or choose to find good in the situation. Yes, you read that right – find good in the situation!
You decide to be thankful that you weren’t in the car at the time; that, apart from the window, (which is easily replaced) nothing else is damaged; and that nothing from inside the car, or the car itself, was stolen. If you spend the journey travelling home being thankful that the situation wasn’t worse than it was, you will be amazed at how much better you feel by the time you arrive. You’ll still have to deal with a broken window but mentally you’ll be in a much better place than if you had allowed resentment to build up inside you.
The trick is trying to not allow things that are outside of your control to have a lasting negative impact on you. And yes, that is a tough ask when life is throwing all sorts of difficult things at you. You can’t necessarily change what is happening, but you can change the attitude you have towards it.
Gratitude as an attitude
Gratitude is both a state and a trait. You can experience gratitude for someone or something at a certain moment in time, but you can also experience gratitude more long-term, as a positive character trait. It is a life skill anyone can learn. It may require some work, particularly in thinking about why you are grateful.
Gratitude is strongly related to wellbeing. The positive effects of experiencing and expressing gratitude are endless.¹ It is no surprise that trait gratitude is an important “predictor of wellbeing and other desirable life outcomes”.²
Practice makes perfect
Practising gratitude is something our Brand Ambassadors Alex and Lois place a high priority on.
“As I have got older, I have learnt to better appreciate the small things” says Alex. “To be more grateful for those days when actually nothing much of note happens. I try to include gratitude in my journals, whether it’s a monthly page or a line in my daily memory journal. Knowing I will be doing this helps me try to identify and recall a moment I feel grateful for every day. It’s something I plan to focus on more in 2024 too.”
There are lasting benefits of consciously choosing to be grateful for things both big and small. Lois likes to “Save my gratitude list for the end of the week, and I just add one line. By the end of the year, I have a page full of happy memories and things I was grateful for. There’s a huge joy in reading back all those positive feelings.”
Keeping a gratitude journal not only helps us to appreciate the little things in life but it also helps build life-long positive character traits that can positively benefit you and those around you. Whether you choose to acknowledge your gratefulness daily, weekly, or monthly, it’s up to you, but whatever you do, we can guarantee it will be time well spent.
As Germany Kent, American broadcast journalist, actor, and author of You are what you Tweet and The Hope Handbook series said: “It’s a funny thing about life, once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack.”
Make this year the year you choose to be grateful.
¹Jans-Beken et al., 2020; Wood et al., 2010
²Portocarrero et al., 2020, p. 6