"Every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds within it a blessing of some kind. The goal is to find it."
is just what it sounds like -- keeping a journal with the intention of expressing appreciation for the good things in life. It can be as simple as writing one thing you are thankful for, a short list, a few paragraphs. Or it can be long and winding, a detailed account of what's going on in our lives, but always with the question: what can I find to be grateful for?
It may seem deceptively simple at first, but practicing gratitude on a regular basis can actually prove quite powerful. Right away, reflecting on the areas of our life that we are thankful for feels good. And with time, the practice of doing it daily can help hardwire our brains to better recognize the positive things in our lives. Simply by writing about what we are grateful for, without any other circumstances in life changing, we begin to feel happier and more fulfilled.
Overcoming our natural negativity bias
The human brain is an amazing and powerful thing, a great tool with which we can shape the way we perceive the world around us. But our brains have some interesting quirks, too, some of which don't always work in our favor.
The negativity bias is a well documented phenomenon that describes the tendency we have to focus more of our attention on negative events than positive ones. Our spouse can shower us with love, but in one thoughtless gesture ruin our day. We can spend all week dwelling on one negative comment from our boss, and forget in an instant the kind words of a coworker. Receive a dozen rave reviews, but it's the bad one that makes us question if we should throw in the towel.
Giving more weight to negative experiences most likely evolved as a way to help us -- by having a more attuned response to danger, we up our chances of avoiding it. But for most of us, focusing on the negative things we experience in our day to day lives actually causes us more harm than simply being able to move on from them.
Fortunately, there is something we can do to counteract this habitual thinking. Because habit it is -- and like any habit, it can be broken and new ones can be formed. By actively taking time to notice and appreciate the small, positive things in life, we begin to strengthen the connections in our brain that fire when we experience something good. Basically, by working out our gratitude muscle, it gets stronger. And just like anything that takes practice, the more often we do it the easier and more second-nature it becomes.
The key to changing those old, ingrained thought-habits is practicing gratitude or other forms of mindfulness on a steady, consistent basis. A gratitude practice can take many forms. It can be as simple as asking your partner every night before bed what their favorite part of the day was, and spending a few moments reflecting yourself. It can be a set of affirmations or a mantra you say to yourself, a daily prayer, or a meditation practice. Any time set aside to consciously, intentionally appreciate life.
Journaling is an easy method for cultivating gratitude, and comes with a few added benefits. It allows you to look back on each page and see, in physical form, how much good there is in your life. And for many of us, the process of writing something down helps form stronger, more lasting connections in our brain. You may also find that the simple act of writing can help you discover how you truly feel about things, which can lead to personal breakthroughs.
There is no right or wrong way to practice gratitude. The important thing is that you find a way that feels good to you, that's easy and enjoyable enough to stick to. Use this website as a source of inspiration and ideas. You can start by reading my personal story with gratitude journaling, or you can you can check out the blog, where you'll find articles on gratitude, mindfulness, journaling, and more. You can also check out the reading recommendations page for books on these topics and others.