How keeping a gratitude journal changed my life

How keeping a gratitude journal changed my life

count your blessings

How keeping a gratitude journal changed my life

It’s New Year’s Day 2016 and I’m snuggled up on the sofa, the log fire crackling. I run my hand over the cover of my new journal, crack open the spine and, on the first pristine page, I write a list: 1) Blissful walk with the dogs through the vineyards. 2) Unexpected call from my godmother. 3) Surprise bottle of vintage champagne from Pascal (my husband).

This isn’t an ordinary diary, but my gratitude journal. I don’t record the seasons or churn through my feelings for profound conclusions. Each night, just before bed, I simply write a list of the three most wonderful things that have happened in the last 24 hours or the special moments that made me smile.

 I started doing this 12 years ago – long before the ‘gratitude journal’ market even existed – and it’s a tradition I intend to continue. I will be doing exactly the same this evening, New Year’s Day 2017.

Recall positive moments

I had the idea in January 2005, when I was squashed in the back of a taxi with my mum, zipping around India.

It was my first holiday since my marriage ended six months earlier. I was 34 and a divorcee. I had failed at my happily ever after, and everywhere I looked friends and family were celebrating with their children. Their cosy togetherness was a reminder that I was alone.

Luckily, Mum had insisted I join her and my stepdad in India. On a whim earlier that day, I had bought a journal decorated with gods and goddesses.

Recalling positive moments made me happy – something I hadn’t been for a while
I was intending to use it as a list-diary, but as we motored along, the radio blasted out an Indian rendition of an Elvis Presley song and the driver sang along earnestly while my mum giggled.

The absurdity of it forced a smile across my face and I dug out the journal and recorded the moment. That night, I read the entry and recalled other positive moments from the day: a glimpse of dolphins in the sea and the warmth of the sun on my face. They made me happy; something I hadn’t been for a while.

Practising gratitude

For the rest of the holiday, I continued to record three happy moments each day. When I returned home I kept going.

Until then I’d tended (I realise now) to focus on the bleak and melancholic. I
was that classic worrier, fretting about the ‘what ifs’. But writing down the
things I was grateful for made me focus on the present and left me feeling more positive.

Even on bleak days, I’d force myself to fill it in with something, however simple: the blackbird singing outside, discovering a new word (when learning French), mastering a yoga move or trying out a new recipe.

It has helped me navigate through some tough times, including when my TV production company folded, when I moved to France and when I discovered I wouldn’t ever be a mother.

Today, I’m happier with my lot in life – more compassionate, more thoughtful. I’ve also come to appreciate the kindness of strangers, and accept family and friends for who they are, not what I long for them to be.

Admittedly ‘gratitude’ sounds glib and clichéd, yet it focuses the attention on the good. And, no matter how difficult your day, there is always good, just as long as you look for it.