One of the most important tools that consistently gives back the most for the least amount of time and energy is… **drum roll please** a gratitude journal. And, what better time of year to remember to give thanks (or gratitude) than Thanksgiving. This is also a good time of year to make a commitment to continue to give thanks and express gratitude by keeping a gratitude journal for the rest of this year and maybe even into next year (as you start to recognize the power of gratitude).
Our brains are so trained to focus on the negatives in our lives that it’s hard to hold onto the positives. Holding onto the positives is a lot like trying to hold onto water – no matter how tightly we cup our hands and squeeze our fingers the water seeps our through the cracks and slowly disappears. Whereas, the negatives are like Velcro – they just seem to hit you, stick, and hold on tight.
Most of the time, positive experiences slip right by us and we take them for granted. We might not even recognize the positive thing that just happened, in part because we’re dwelling on the negatives. This is just because that’s the way our brains are wired for survival. To stay alive, our brains have focused primarily on the negatives as an advantage in life-threatening situations. We aren’t in many of these situations anymore though, but our brains are still wired this way.
So, we have a duty to ourselves to re-wire our brain. And, the good news is…we can. By focusing our attention more on the positives, we will slowly start to recognize them more often and hold onto them a bit tighter. The negatives will no longer have such a strong hold and repeat so much because the brain will be searching for the positives a bit more than before.
How to Keep a Gratitude Journal
To keep a gratitude journal you simply write down at least 3 things that you are grateful or thankful for each day. I prefer writing with a pen/paper, but you could choose to keep it on your phone or computer.
Focus on the very small things in life, rather than the big things (or at least after you run out of the major things you are grateful for in life). Did you see the sun rise/set and enjoy the colors? Were you able to notice a bird singing and listen for a few seconds? Did you take a moment to literally smell the roses? Did you share a smile with a stranger? How about enjoying the taste of your morning coffee?
Make it a point to give thanks this season and discover the benefits of journaling or documenting your gratitude daily.
Kimberly Atwood is a licensed psychotherapist and certified sex therapist in private practice in Princeton, NJ. She specializes in sexual health, intimacy and relationship issues. For more information, please check out her website.