Updated: Nov 20, 2020
Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
We often hear the phrase, “Live a life of gratitude,” and most of us can probably attest to the notion that the emotional nature of gratitude fills our hearts and our minds daily. However as Ralph Waldo Emerson highlights in the quote above, gratitude goes beyond the emotion that we feel when something good happens to us – gratitude is a habit that we need to cultivate. To cultivate means to foster the growth of something, or to improve something by labor, care or study. Cultivating gratitude takes our emotions surrounding thankfulness one step further, and requires us to look a bit further
beyond ourselves in order to see the goodness in our life and where it comes from.
One easy practice to cultivate gratitude that has gained popularity the last few years is Gratitude Journaling. However for those of us who struggle to journal on a regular basis, gratitude journaling is a practice that can seem a bit daunting. I have always dreamed of being an avid journaler – I have visions of perfect, daily journal entries, complete with hand-lettered headings, a scripture to go with each day, a list of my to-dos, etc., etc., etc. However due to my perfectionist nature (I am a p
ure 1 on the enneagram if that’s your jam), I struggle to complete a journal. Most often, I barely get a full month in before throwing in the towel because I don’t get my to-dos checked off, I have to scratch something out or I miss a day, thus rendering the entire journal a waste…
Thankfully, gratitude journaling can be as flexible as you would like to make it, and doesn’t have to be a daily practice in order to reap the benefits. Numerous studies have shown that those who practice gratitude journaling two to three times a week experience positive effects on their well-being including: feeling better physically, having a more positive outlook on the future, having a higher resiliency for stressful situations and having better relationships.
To begin your gratitude practice, you first need to decide when you are going to commit to journaling. For me, I switched out my habit of reaching for my phone to check the news when I first woke up, to grabbing my phone, opening my notes and typing out at least one thing I was grateful for daily. You could do something similar – or if every day is too much, you could start with three times a week, writing down three things you are grateful for. (As an aside, use the term “journal” loosely – it can be a designated piece of paper for the month, a special Note you create in your phone, a notebook or even a series of post-its you stick to your bathroom mirror. The point is to have a hard-copy you can refer back to.)
Another thing to look at is if there is a time of day that tends to be more stressful or induces anxiety. Purposefully planning to shift your thoughts and focus away from day to day stressors onto something that you are grateful for, not only changes your thinking in the moment, but also helps transform your attitude moving forward for the rest of the day. For example, if you have a long commute to work via public transportation, you could journal then. If you tend to feel overwhelmed returning to your office after lunch, keep your notebook handy in your car and take five minutes before returning to your office. For some, jotting down the things they are grateful for right before bed allows them to clear their minds and focus on the good, rather than swirling thoughts.
Whatever schedule/day you choose, commit to following for at least one month. This will give you time to evaluate how you are being affected, as well as see if there is a better day/time that might benefit you more. Chances are, no matter the method you choose to use, you will notice a difference in your attitude, your outlook and your relationships. And although drastic changes to your life may not be immediate, through cultivation of gratitude, the effects will be evident for years to come.