Well, it’s over. The most wonderful time of the year. All that shopping, the traffic at the malls, the wrapping, the cooking and baking, the visiting with family and friends … did I mention the traffic at the malls?
Except for that last one, I love all that stuff.
Partly, it’s because something magical happens. People are nice. They let you in when you are caught in that traffic. They open doors for you, offer to carry things to your car. They smile.
Now, we’re headed into the most dreaded part of the year. Cold and rainy weather, credit cards bills, the reality of a new year with the same old problems.
I’m going to try a gratitude journal. I read up on this idea after mentioning it in last month’s column and I made a decision: to buy one for everyone in my family. I don’t know if they’ll use theirs but I will use mine.
Of course, you don’t have to buy a gratitude journal to keep one. You can make one, for yourself, for a child, for your family to share. An inexpensive notebook, decorated in some way, is just as good and perhaps more fun and maybe more meaningful.
The concept couldn’t be simpler: Take a few minutes at the end of each day to write down things we are grateful for. On any given day, for some, those things will be profound: getting through another round of chemotherapy, finding a job, the birth of a child, moving out of a shelter and into a home. But for all of us, those things will be the small moments we often overlook: enjoying a really good cup of tea, fixing a nice dinner despite a long day at work, having a pet lie peacefully beside you, beginning a good book.
I admit it. These are the things I take for granted. Instead, I spend a lot more of my time griping about what’s not working, whether that’s an appliance, the customer service counter at a store or on the phone, a relationship. It’s not always wasted energy. Sometimes the customer service rep actually does something, the computer starts working again, the honest conversation takes place with a child or a friend.
The point is that, even when that happens, I often retell the story of my frustration but don’t give a thought to being thankful it worked out.
That’s why I need a gratitude journal.
I’m easily distracted. Putting this small journal on my nightstand will remind me not only to think of the good things – big and small – that happened in a day, but also to write them down, so I can reflect on them later.
Why does it matter? Andrew Sullivan, writing on The Daily Beast, explains:
“Jeffrey Froh, a professor of psychology at Hofstra University, did a study in which he asked a group of middle-schoolers to keep ‘gratitude journals’ for two weeks. The kids wrote down a few things they were grateful for every day. A second group of kids wrote down the day’s petty annoyances, and a third group did neither. The students who were made to think about what they had to be grateful for experienced a surge in optimism and a decrease in negative feelings.”
And I need both. We all probably do. And so do our kids. It is so easy to complain and whine and wring our hands. Why not spend even a portion of that energy refocusing my perspective. We all go through terrible stuff and some through really terrible stuff.
Our choices are two: Wallow in our misery or look at the proverbial bright side. There really always is a bright side, no matter how small. I need to be grateful for that.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more.”
I’m hopeful my gratitude journal will help me remember that and make it possible to feel that “holiday spirit” beyond
December. I’m certain we can extend the excitement and joyfulness of that time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day that makes us want to volunteer our time, donate our money, buy toys for tots. People are hungry in June, too. Kids need shoes and clothes in the spring as much as in winter. People in nursing homes are just as loney during the summer as during the holidays.
And I will remember the words of John F. Kennedy: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”