Every so often, I resurrect my gratitude journal. When I’m feeling particularly irritated and curmudgeonly, I drag it out of hiding. Before opening the cover, I take a deep breath, reframe my thoughts, and choose to be grateful.
When life is going well, it’s easy to count my blessings. It’s easy to feel grateful when my kids behave like angels, and my body doesn’t ache. But when my children test my patience, my husband and I argue, or my chronic pain flares, it’s tough to push past the negativity.
Choose to Be Grateful
The idea of a gratitude journal sounds lovely. In theory, I find a comfy space to sit and write down all of the good things in my life. But what happens when things aren’t going well?
If I only focus on the good stuff, I might not learn from the negative moments. I might not recognize my strength and resilience either.
My gratitude journals are full of blessings and happy thoughts, but I don’t ignore the tough stuff. I create a realistic version of my life rather than a pollyanna reflection.
Grateful in Any Circumstance
I try to be grateful in any circumstance. When writing in my gratitude journal, I don’t shy away from the negative aspects of my life. I give voice to them. Then reframe them in a more uplifting way.
Giving thanks when life doesn’t go as planned is challenging. How do we find the good in bad situations? When writing, I start with a practice I call, “This sucks, but.”
The power resides in those three tiny letters: b-u-t.
When facing a challenge, I force myself to focus on something positive. It’s tough to explain how this works without examples. So here are a few:
- I don’t want to work anymore, but jobs help me learn new skills and help others.
- I may drive an old beater car, but I’m grateful it never breaks down.
- My house is not the biggest on the block, but I am thankful we don’t have too much stuff and not enough space for the things we need.
What Do You Write in a Gratitude Journal?
And here are a few examples from my own life:
When I was suffering from neuropathy, I wrote, “My feet feel like they are on fire. The pain won’t leave my hands, but [my husband] made me a warm bath with Epsom salts. I soaked while watching a movie.”
When I struggled to conceive, I wrote, “Trips to the fertility clinic are exhausting, but I’m thankful for the chance to have a baby.”
Recently, I scribbled, “I hate that dad is sick with cancer, but I’m glad he’s well enough to talk about his finances. Now I can manage his bills.”
I try to do this whenever I think about problems in my life. A few weeks ago, I wrote about my dad’s diagnosis. “I am more than a little bit sad,” I said. “I’m devastated, but I am also grateful for the time I’ve spent with amazing parents I love.”
It may seem like a strange way to choose to be grateful, but it reorients me to the positive when life is messy and imperfect. Rather than aiming for a flawless existence, I aim to see the light in an otherwise dark scenario.
Benefits of Gratitude
The benefits of gratitude include improving your physical and psychological health, reducing anger, and improving your sleep. But there is another, perhaps even more important, aspect to journaling.
When we feel down, we often compare ourselves to others. We log on to Facebook and find sparkly engagement rings, expensive vacations, and smiling children.
In our own lives, we tend to focus on negative events but candy-coat the success of others.
Are they as happy as we imagine? Probably not. Try flipping the script as we did above:
- My friend is buying a new house, but she will have a much longer commute to work.
- My coworker received a promotion, but she worked 60 hours a week to get it.
- A friend of mine earns a six-figure salary but never sees her children.
- My cousin took a trip to the Bahamas, but she has a terrible relationship with her family.
When things aren’t going well, it’s easy to resent the fortune of others. By choosing to be grateful, we reduce our jealousy towards those who appear to have it easier. By flipping the script, we can also see how others are struggling.
Choose to Be Grateful Every Day
While I have to dust off my gratitude journal from time to time, I choose to be grateful every day. Every morning I reflect on my blessings in the shower. I list joyful moments in my mind, then reframe the adverse events more positively.
Choosing to be grateful takes practice. You can try “this sucks, but” while sipping your morning coffee, driving to work, or washing the dishes at the end of a long day.
I’ve dealt with chronic pain, infertility, and a whole host of other unforeseen and unpleasant issues throughout my lifetime. I know what it’s like to climb hurdles others don’t seem to encounter and how hard it is to see past them.
Each one of those terrible moments redefined me and taught me fundamental life lessons.
Gratitude and Happiness
We often think happiness exists right around the corner. If we get a new job, get married, get a promotion or travel somewhere new, we will be happy.
But what if happiness doesn’t arrive after we reach new pinnacles? By choosing to be grateful right now, we stop waiting for something to change.
I hope you can find a sliver of light in your dark scenarios. I will leave you with this quote from an old issue of Oprah Magazine:
“Our challenges are what bring the chance for transformation. And it is for our deepest pain that we can be most grateful, because we know our hardship will deliver a lesson that refines our character.
As you practice gratitude, give thanks not only for what you have but also for what you have escaped. When difficulties arise, ask yourself, “What is the lesson for me in this?” And when you can give thanks in the midst of your trial, know that you are becoming your finest.”