These days, if you make a habit of listening to too much news, it’s easy to develop a sense of pessimism and gloom. Life can begin to feel rather dark and hopeless. So, it’s especially important during these times to take a moment to express gratitude for your life and your loved ones. Studies have shown that those who are grateful are happier both personally and professionally.
In dealing with my own personal family issues lately, it’s been easier than usual to slip into the dark side. As a way to bring lightness back into my life, I began keeping a gratitude journal, which is basically my way of writing about the things I’m grateful for.
A gratitude journal is a way to focus on all the positive aspects of your life, and is also an integral part of positive psychology. You might periodically read the list of things you’re grateful for during those times when you’re not having such a great day. The late writer Oliver Sacks (he passed away in 2015), suffered from pancreatic cancer, but once said that having gratitude was responsible for keeping him alive. Even though he knew his life was coming to an end, he was grateful for the opportunity to look back with a deep sense of connection and see his last days in the context of his entire life. He said that although he was afraid of dying, his predominant emotion at the end of his life was gratitude. Knowing that his days were limited made him feel even more alive. He was able to do all the things he wanted to do before his transition—such as deepen his friendships, say goodbye to loved ones, travel, achieve new levels of insight, and write. For those at the end of life, writing can be very cathartic and healing. Also, it is a memorable gift to leave behind for loved ones.
Another option, if time is an issue, is to engage in what I call “speed journaling,” which I’ve integrated into my day following my morning meditation. I pull my journal from my bedside table and jot down three things I’m grateful for on that particular day. Sometimes gratitude journaling seems tedious, but it only takes a few minutes and can result in a world of change. And, when I’m feeling overwhelmed during the day, I often flip open my journal as a reminder of all the things I’m thankful for.
For those who are not journal keepers, studies have shown that the simple act of telling our partners how thankful we are for them can do wonders for our romantic relationships. Feeling grateful for someone definitely has its benefits and can serve as a booster shot for a relationship (Algoe, Gable, and Maisel, 2010). It might just be a matter of rolling over in the morning and expressing thanks to your loved one for being in your life.
Gratitude is about feeling love and appreciation for ourselves and others. As poet Pablo Neruda said, “You can pick all the flowers, but you can’t stop the spring.” Many of us take our lives for granted and do not express gratitude often enough. In addition to keeping a gratitude journal, it’s important to appreciate each day that we’re alive and marvel at the miracle of life. I believe that gratitude should be an integral part of our everyday lives and journeys.
Author Janice Kaplan in her book, The Gratitude Diaries, has noted that, in addition to the feeling of gratitude being fun, looking for the positive in her lived experiences has changed her attitude toward life. She realized that it has not only been certain experiences that have affected her happiness, but how she chose to frame them and, thus, how they affected her. She said, “I could decide to feel annoyance and torment—or I could decide to feel joy. It still required some conscious effort, but gratitude was helping me to feel the joy” (p. 90).
Algoe, S. B, S. L. Gable & N. C. Maisel. (2010). “It’s the little things: Everyday gratitude as a booster shot for romantic relationships. Personal Relationships. May 21.
Kaplan, J. (2015). The gratitude diaries: How a year looking on the bright side can transform your life. New York, NY: Dutton.
Sacks, O. (2015). Gratitude. New York, NY: Borzoi Books, Knopf.