Dear Sparkly Unicorn Friends:
I have another confession.
I wasn’t always sparkly. Or even a unicorn. But somewhere along the way, I learned a very valuable life lesson: Happiness is a choice. If I want to be happy, I need to actively and mindfully seek out joy. I also need to celebrate those joyful moments when they happen.
Now, I’m going to add a disclaimer right here, right now: if you have clinical depression, this does not apply to you. Your brain is not allowing you to choose very much, and certainly not happiness. If you have (or suspect you have) clinical depression, please seek professional help. You deserve to be in a place where you can choose happiness too.
However, if any of the situations below apply to you, then read on, sparkly unicorns, read on:
Seeking Joy? Express Gratitude
Joy and gratitude are very much interconnected. In her book,The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown notes:
Without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice.
In other words, to live a joyful life, we need to live a grateful life.
The thing is, we walk around saying things like “I feel grateful for …” But gratefulness should be an action, not a feeling. Camille Styles sums it up nicely:
… for gratitude to really have its impact, it has to go beyond being something we feel, and become something we do in actionable ways on a regular basis.
Hmmm … Now, what can we do on a regular basis to express gratitude? Given that this blog is at sohospark.com, I think you can reasonably infer an answer.
The Gratitude Journal
Cool cats: like any other personal journal, a gratitude journal can be anything you want it to be. If a daily bullet list of 3 or 5 things floats your boat, that’s doable. If you want each entry to be a letter to someone/something to express gratefulness, that’s cool too. If you want to show your gratitude through art, go for it.
That said, here are a few tips that will help you get the most benefit from your gratitude journal.
How to Find Gratitude
Gratitude doesn’t have to be about things that are totally amazeballs. Sure, I would be grateful if I won the lottery or if Gerard Butler showed up on my doorstep. Duh. But I would also be grateful if I found a $5 bill I had forgotten about in a jacket pocket. Whee! A latte! Likewise, I’m grateful for the “big” things in life (like my health) but that doesn’t mean I can’t be grateful for silly things too (a good hair day = all kinds of yaass).
Now, we all have awful, terrible, no-good days when it feels like there are absolutely 0--ZERO!--things to be grateful for. That’s okay. No one can be joyful or grateful 24/7. Not even sparkly unicorns. Give yourself permission to have a bad day. Then dust yourself off, sprinkle on more sparkles (or caffeine, whatever works), and power on.
Leave Negative Baggage at the Door
If venting in a personal diary is helpful for you, by all means, do it--just not in your gratitude journal. Keep this one lined journal full of the warm fuzzies.
Dig Deep and Elaborate
The more deeply you examine why you’re grateful, the more powerful your gratitude becomes. Even if you're trying to keep things brief with a list, try to expand a little bit on the why. Let me give you these examples:
Now, imagine rereading these a year or two down the road. Which of these would bring back the most powerful memories? Which evokes the strongest emotions? Which paints a clearer picture of the joy my dogs bring me? #3, amirite? But even #2 is better than poor old #1.
By all means, if you need some ideas on what to write about--or if you seem to list the same 5 things every day--seek out writing prompts. An internet search for “gratitude journal prompts” brings up over 6.5 million results. There are lots of good ideas out there, like:
Make it a Habit
Schedule a regular time so that writing in your gratitude journal becomes a habit. Some people suggest doing so right after you wake up. That way, you set an intention for gratitude for the day ahead. Others suggest doing so at the end of the day so that you have plenty of grateful moments to choose from. But, hey, you could just do you, and pull out your gratitude journal while you’re riding public transit or on your lunch break.
That said, it’s not necessary to do this every day. If it becomes a chore, the joy seeps out of it. And, if you write about things that are deeply meaningful or surprising moments of gratitude, your gratefulness becomes more powerful than when you list the same things over and over by rote.
What do you say, sparkly unicorns? Are you ready to bring more joy and gratitude to your life?
If you already keep a gratitude journal, please let me know in the comments below. I would love to hear from you--and especially about benefits you’ve experienced from your own gratitude journal.
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No one knows for sure why journaling is an effective stress-buster. But there are several theories that make a lot of sense.