Often I round off a my yoga practice by focussing on something or someone I’m thankful for. I do this mini gratitude meditation for one simple reason: it feels good.
The it struck me, if gratitude is so blissful, why didn’t I practise it more? Was there more to gain from gratitude?
I delved into the research on this delicious emotion and discovered a growing body of science. Studies suggest that not only does it makes us feel good, gratitude can also reduce stress, boost self-esteem, bolster the immune system, build resilience, improve sleep and even strengthen our relationships. Not bad.
It was time to take my gratitude training a step further. The challenge: write a 5-minute gratitude journal every day for a year. Every morning (nearly), I began my day scribbling the words ‘Today I am grateful for…’.
One year on, I have no intention of stopping. Here’s what I learnt.
I’d already experienced the gratitude glow from my yoga sessions – the little burst of happiness you get after counting your blessings. However, I soon noticed my journal was having an impact beyond the initial post-journal glow. My outlook was shifting: I felt more positive and content. I started to savour little luxuries more, like getting to eat my lunch in the sunshine or the first cup of tea on a cold morning. Moments which used to fly by without my attention became mindful and more joyful.
It turns out, just like yoga, gratitude is a skill which gets stronger the more you practise. It has the potential to become your default setting: a happiness habit.
Not long into my experiment certain themes started popping up time and again. In particular, my body and my health. Like many of us, I’ve been trained to look for ways my body doesn’t measure up – not thin enough, not strong enough, not flexible enough [insert insecurity here].
Being grateful stops me beating my body up for what it’s not and helps me love it for the miracle it is. My journal reminds me that my body is working hard to keep me alive every second of the day. Gratitude keeps me focused on the unbelievably cool things my body can do (walk/run/do yoga/dance) and not all the things it can’t (monkey pose/fit into size 10 jeans).
A bonus side effect of body positivity: you get healthier. Contrary to what the diet industry tells you, hating on your body will never help you reach your health goals. When you start believing your body is a miracle, rather than something holding you back, you will want to take care of it.
Taking note of recurring themes has also helped me to focus on my goals and what’s important. Sometimes I’ll look back over my journal and take stock of the past few weeks or months. The journal has become a way for me to discover, or remind myself, what matters most and what I want to work on.
When things get tough, reminding yourself of the good stuff is super helpful. What’s more, I found that my journal’s helped me build a more resilient mindset by changing the way I think about setbacks.
Experiences you wouldn’t immediately think of as blessings started to appear on my daily list: failures, difficult emotions and all the stuff which hadn’t quite gone to plan. I re-framed them for the good stuff they’d brought.
I noted down gratitude for injuries which had forced me to slow down and taught me more about my yoga practice. I journaled gratitude for my struggle with anxiety which, I realised, is the main reason I’m doing what I love today.
If you read my journal, you’ll notice how often people feature. Friends, family, teachers, students, strangers that help me out. Practising gratitude for people makes it pretty much impossible to take them for granted and I’m convinced it makes me a better friend, girlfriend, daughter and sister (most of the time).
How To Start A 5-Minute Gratitude Journal
1 – Find A Nice Notebook
You’re going to pick this up every day, so it might as well be pretty. Here’s mine:
2 – Keep It Short
5 minutes is all you need. Take a minute or two to think and then write down at least 3 things you’re grateful for, more if you like. Start each sentence with something like ‘Today I am grateful for…’ Just in case you forget what you’re doing.
3 – Make It A Habit
Pick a time of day that works for and you stick to it. It’ll help you remember to do it and make it a habit. I do mine first thing in the morning.
4 – It’s OK To Skip A Day
Don’t fret if you forget or fall off the wagon. Just get back on it when you can. I have a digital version on my phone which I use if I’m travelling.
5 – Be Specific
It’s easy write general things like ‘my family’, but I’ve found getting specific boosts the benefits. ‘I am grateful for my family’ becomes ‘I’m grateful for the support of my parents’ or ‘laughing till I cried with my brother’. Much better.
6 – Get Creative
Yes, some things come up again and again and that’s ok, but try not to write the same three things every day. Get creative and dig deeper. Anything from people, places, experiences, opportunities, little things, big things… random things. I don’t think it’s possible to run out of ideas.
7 – Read It Back
Mainly because it will make you smile, but also because it can help you see what matters most, which isn’t always easy to figure out in your head. It could be a name you realise features on half of all your entries. It could be the weekend hobby that you see proudly written on every single Monday morning list. What you do with this insight is up to you.
Ready to feel the gratitude glow? Why not set yourself the daily 5-minute journal as a challenge and share your experience in the comments.