Reversing Negative Thinking Through Gratitude
A gratitude journal saved my life and gave me hope when I had none.
Posted Jul 09, 2019
Every morning I woke up with dread. A feeling of heaviness that invaded my thoughts, weighed me down during the day and tortured me at night. I zombied my way through the world with little hope that life could change. I even questioned the value of living.
My family was hit by a series of crises that were irreversible. My wife and I had always been cheerleaders for each other, but we were both knocked down this time. We didn’t know how to help ourselves or one another. She felt equally defeated. (See "Healing Emotional Pain.")
“Why me? Why are these things happening?”
My mind searched for relief and only found more hopelessness. All the tools I learned as a psychotherapist failed me. I felt like a fraud.
Then early one morning after a sleepless night tormented by my own menacing thoughts, I decided I had to do something different. I had no choice. I couldn’t go on living demoralized.
On a whim, I pulled an old notebook from a shelf and sat at my kitchen table. I opened it to a blank page and wrote four words: “I am grateful for…”
Honestly, I didn’t know what I was doing it. It was a pure impulse. A part of me resisted, mocked the entire exercise. But a healthier part of me pushed me forward, encouraged me to continue writing, keep trying to list all the good in my life.
The birth of a gratitude journal
Every morning, I re-read my gratitude journal and added to it. I started to carry it with me. I opened it sporadically during the day and wrote. Over time, a truly amazing thing started to happen. The events in my life didn’t change but my attitude did. I felt lighter.
My gratitude journal forced me to look beyond my pain at the moment and see at the bigger picture. It challenged my negative thinking and gave me a broader perspective.
Often pain seduces you into believing it will never end. For me, all pain is personal, so the solution had to be too. If I was generating negative thoughts, I had the power to generate positive ones as well. Unearthing gratitude opened my mind to new possibilities.
I don’t expect you to believe me. I have no scientific proof that a gratitude journal can help you. I have no statistics to quote or studies to share. I can only say that it made a big difference in my life. It helped me when I thought nothing could.
Starting a gratitude journal
Over time, my gratitude journal evolved. I divided gratitude into three simple groups: people, places, and things:
Who do you love? Who are you grateful for in your life? Make a list as detailed as possible. What qualities in that person do you love the most? Every if the person has passed away, what did he or she give you?
List places that have filled you with joy. They could be current places or memories. For me, recollections of visiting my grandmother's house were packed with happiness. As I wrote down memories, I found myself smiling. The memories were surprisingly fresh and accessible.
List anything you like; pets, a beloved book, a favorite meal, a song. Nothing is small or insignificant. If it brings you happiness, it matters.
The internet is full of gratitude journal suggestions and prompts. (See "How to Be Grateful Without Rolling Your Eyes.") You can use them as a jumping-off point, print them out or reference suggestions. Or you can find a notebook or piece of paper and start right now. Once you begin writing, don’t stop until you fill the page.
You may be surprised to discover that even in the darkest places you have the power to generate light.
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