If you trawl self help and wellbeing blogs like I do, you’ll probably have come across the idea of the Gratitude Journal before. Lots of people swear by them. You might think they are a bit of a cheesy idea, writing down what you are grateful for in your life every day. I mean, isn’t it self-evident?
Think about all the time you spend moaning and complaining about what is wrong with your life. Our consumer culture programmes us to always want something else, something more than what we already have. There might be a reason why all those slum dwellers you see in doumentaries look so happy. Its not because they are glad to be living in squallor and poverty, that’s for sure. Maybe it’s because they have so little that they value what they do have.
Let me tell you a story about one of the most inspiring people I have ever known:
My Great Auntie Kitty.
She was in her late 80s and early 90s when I knew her. I was a small child – I think I was probably about 8 or 10 when she died. I didn’t know her well because she lived in a town four hours drive from our home, so we were only able to visit her rarely, but she made a big impression.
Auntie Kitty was born disabled as a result of problems with her hips and legs, though I don’t remember specifically what. Suffice it to say that she had never been able to walk properly and had worn calipers all her life. By the time I knew her, she was severely crippled with arthritis, in appalling pain, and mostly blind from macular degeneration. She was also quite deaf. But she had a brain as sharp as a knife, and wit to match, loved to debate politics, ethics and religion, and kept up to the minute with all the news through her radio. She also loved talking books, which she listened to continually as well. She was funny, entertaining, and never let you get away with anything, especially self pity or fuzzy thinking.
Like many younger daughters, she had devoted her life to caring for others in her family, nursing her own parents and siblings through old age and into death. She was the last of her generation to survive. She had never married. She had battled her way through a hard life through sheer force of will.
I remember her telling me this:
Every night, when she lay in the dark after the carer had come to put her to bed, she would think of three things in her life to be grateful for. Sometimes she was in horrific pain, and thinking of anything to be thankful for was very difficult. But she told me that no matter what, she could always find something.
Every night for the last thirty years, I have done the same. Three things. Just three. Usually there are plenty more. I could fill pages! Some nights, if I’ve had a row with my husband or I’m in a lot of pain, as I sometimes am, I can struggle a bit. It can be pretty rudimentary on those occasions:
1. I have a roof over my head.
2. I have a bed to support me.
3. There is ibuprofen in the cupboard.
Most of the time, there is plenty to be grateful for:
1. I have a wonderful husband who loves me.
2. I live in a beautiful place that most people would give a limb to inhabit.
3. I have lots of friends who care for me very much.
4. I get to write!! (And so on)
I do this every night, come what may, partly in remembrance of Auntie Kitty, in celebration of her huge personality and bravery, and partly for myself. Because it helps.
Being grateful shifts us into awareness, not only of what is real in our lives, but what is important. Having that latest pair of shoes or the new Clarisonic really is not important compared with the people who we love and who love us. Unlike the slum dwellers of the Developing World, most of us know we have a safe place to sleep tonight, and food in our bellies. We have other, First World problems, I suppose, but there is still such a lot to be thankful for. It is so easy to forget how fortunate we are. Let’s not.
(I was going to take a picture of my Gratitude Journal to show you, but somehow it felt wrong. An invasion. Privacy, remember? I find my reaction about that interesting itself, and I propose to explore it more in my own journal later, because I wasn’t expecting to feel that way. Its interesting when you find boundaries you didn’t know were there, don’t you think?)
Okay, you get to go out and indulge in the stationery shop again this week! Go and choose yourself a nice little notebook, one with small pages. I use this one.
Every night before you go to bed, get your notebook out and write at least three things that you are grateful for today. Use a separate page every day, and date each. Sometimes you will fill the page, and wish you had another. Maybe you will go on a fill another, that’s up to you. Some days you will be grumpy and resentful, and won’t feel like doing anything other than having a pity party for yourself. Regardless, remember: write three things. Just three. It will help.
At the end of the first month, go back through your notebook and reflect on the things you have written down. What are your lists showing about what important to you? Write about this in your journal, if you like. How has a daily gratitude practise changed the way you feel about your life?