As I begin preparations for our big Thanksgiving meal, I’ve had a few moments to step away from work and pause everyday chores. This time has allowed me the luxury of reflection, to count the many blessings I have been afforded recently and throughout my life.
But make no mistake; this is not an easy task. The world is swirling around us. People are suffering in depths I cannot imagine. Stress and worry can be crippling.
To appreciate even the smallest of things is, at times, challenging.
Some days I remind myself to be thankful by focusing on everyday people, circumstances and events—a heartwarming conversation, beautiful sunset, warm sunshine on a cool day, a good cup of coffee, going for a walk in the evening after dinner. This practice is also about shifting my perspective; even though I may have had a bad day, I still get to sit down and have a delicious meal with my family.
Not everyone has this.
To practice thankfulness, I make it a point to spend time with a notebook. For the last two years, I’ve been writing in my Joy & Gratitude Journal from Commit30. If I’m lucky, I would put my pen to paper once week. But this year, something happened. I felt like I needed some extra help to align with my goals and dreams and that’s when I made a commitment to write every day. Now, I may miss a day once every two weeks, but for the most part I make it a daily habit.
It took me a while to find the best time of day for me. Making dinner, after-school pickups and drop-offs, work deadlines—it always seemed like there was a reason not to write. But I finally figured out that around 8:30 each evening was optimal to reflect on the joys of the day.
Simple prompts include what I am grateful for that day, or the ways in which I will choose joy by either letting go or focusing on a particular person or situation, for example. I also fill out a Joy List, things that make me happy that day.
Letting go, I have learned, is an important part of embracing joy.
Bad days are tough to sit down and find joy. But I think those are the most important days to write. Being thankful is about being grateful for all aspects of my life—tangible like my home, family, friends and community and intangible such as relationships and the health of those I love.
According to multiple psychology research studies, practicing gratitude can significantly alter our well-being to include increased happiness and satisfaction in life, better sleep and physical health and less fatigue. Journals, specifically, force us to pay attention to the good in our lives that we may otherwise take for granted.
Writing 15 minutes in a gratitude journal weekly for 10 weeks or daily for two weeks led to an increase in “more gratitude, positive moods and optimism about the future,” revealed a study by Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.
Focusing on what really matters, mental health experts agree, is a habit worth forming.
“A gratitude journal is a tool to keep of the good things in life; it is a simple stress relief technique of writing all the things you are grateful for,” says Diana Miramontes, a licensed clinical therapist based in Southern California. “Each day you take the time to reflect and write on the positive aspects of your life and what brings you joy. After doing this for some time and making it a habit, you begin to notice you're less stressed. Gratitude sweetens even the smallest moments.”
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