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Also, I was so profoundly impacted by the experience of keeping a gratitude journal that I incorporated journaling into our new 4 week yoga and fitness program for the holidays. It includes writing prompts to help you focus on cultivating a deeper sense of gratitude in your life, along with bodyweight workouts and yoga practices you can do anywhere this holiday season.
I was on a huge reading kick a few months ago. I voraciously read book after book, often staying up late, unable to put my current read down. In one of them, Option B, I'd read about how Sheryl Sandberg had started a gratitude journal to help her get through the days immediately following her husband's unexpected passing.
Years ago, I'd learned the scientific benefits of cultivating more gratitude in your life from the book The Gratitude Diaries, but I'd not put the practice of a gratitude journal into play. That is, until now.
See, before, I felt sort of intimidated by the idea of keeping a gratitude journal. I mean, I had questions. Did I have to write full paragraphs? Did I have to hit a magical number each day? How would I remember each moment that made the book? Did I have to carry the journal around with me everywhere I went like a crutch helping me get through the day?! But in Option B, Sheryl Sandberg made it really simple. Just start with one thing. One little thing per day. It could be a word or a sentence - whatever felt easiest. Write it down before bed. That's all, end of story.
Well that can't be too hard, I thought.
I finished Option B right around the end of September and figured the start of October would be the perfect time to start my own gratitude journal.
I became more aware of each moment
On October first, I went about my usual day. I got up, made breakfast, worked a bit, walked the dog, worked some more, went to the gym, went to the grocery store, showered, worked some more, made dinner, went to bed. Normally, I'd just go through the motions, not really taking in each moment, but because I knew I'd sit down at the end of the day and write my one line of gratitude, I had this very subtle undercurrent of awareness going on in the back of my mind. Without focusing on it too hard, I was conscious that I was looking for a good moment in my day to write about.
I experienced a shift in my outlook
It almost became like a game to me. I'd walk the dog, and as I'd walk down the street, I was almost smiling to myself, excited because who knew? The very next moment could be the one that makes the book. Or maybe the moment after that would be even better and that would make the book! It was as if I had an instant shift in outlook. Not that I was ever really a glass half empty person (I was more of a "oh the glass has some water in it" kind of person) but I was suddenly, most definitely a glass half full sort of person.
I became more present in interactions
About five years ago, one of my New Year's Resolutions was to be nicer. Not fake nice or patronizing, but I wanted to stop walking around with a chip on my shoulder. The days of constantly feeling like a victim or that life was out to get me had to stop. I tried to be nicer in daily interactions. I tried to slow down and really be present with each interaction. Anyway, in starting the gratitude journal, I noticed that my day to day interactions with people became even more pleasant than usual. In thinking about it, I think it's because I was suddenly more more present in my interactions. If I were chatting with the cashier at Whole Foods, I'd take the time to say hello, ask how their day was going and try to cheer them up if they were feeling blah.
I pointed out the good
With each passing day, I felt more and more positive. Not, like, one of those annoyingly happy people with a giant smile plastered on her face at all times, but overall I just felt upbeat, positive, and with constant, effortless joy. I became a "look on the upside" kind of person. For example, there are two or three Debbie Downer types I deal with on a weekly basis. No matter what I say, they are just negative. Seriously, someone could hand them a fifty dollar bill and they'd make some comment about bacteria on cash, haha. Anyway, I became the person that points out the good to others. On a Monday morning, while we all rode the elevator together, someone complained about the work day ahead (pretty much everyone riding the elevator was clearly on their way to work), and I said something upbeat and positive like, "Well hey, at least we've all got jobs to go to this morning, right? Always a silver lining somewhere." A part of me felt bad being that chipper person, but come on. If anything, this gratitude journal business made me more aware of the energy I carried around with me. If I was going to actively look for the good in my day, I wasn't going to let someone try to start my Monday off on the wrong foot!
I was calm in times of stress
I'm a believer in the law of attraction, but in the past, I'd let myself get stressed by bills and profit/loss statements. My small business peeps know what a grind it is to try to stay afloat. In the past, if not enough money were coming in, I'd freak out and stress out, and remain in that state of stress until things turned around. But in practicing gratitude and keeping a journal, I noticed that I shifted from stressing in times of financial hiccups to just letting it go. I was inexplicably calm about things that would've stressed me out in the past. There were four specific financial incidents that happened over the course of October that normally would have stressed me out. Instead, I let each one go. Instead of freaking out, I took deep breaths and said to myself, "The money is out there, and it will come." I truly and deeply believe the line as I said it. And do you know what? I kid you not, October was the most lucrative month YBC® has had in ages.
The more I looked for them, the more good things started to appear
By week two of the month-long experiment, I couldn't just write one good thing that happened. I started writing two and then even three, because so many great moments were happening throughout my day. As I looked for more great moments, more and more great moments appeared in my day. And, I guess now's the time to tell you that while I consider them great moments, they might not be considered all that great by anyone else. Some moments that made the cut:
- The joy I felt this morning when I walked into the living room this morning and saw Buckles fast asleep on his bed.
- The sunset - oranges, yellows, pinks - against the pale blue sky as I drove to the gym tonight.
- How pretty the natural light is when it pours through the windows of my office around 10am
- How delicious the coffee is that I brought back from Kenya
- What a nice visit I had with my mom at her house today, and how hospitable and kind and funny she is
- The hysterical elevator encounter I had with the elderly woman in my building that made me laugh til I cried.
So you see, they weren't outrageous, extraordinary moments, but they were special to me.
I was so profoundly impacted by this experience that I decided to incorporate gratitude journaling into our latest yoga and fitness program. It's a 4 week fitness program we designed to help people stay on track with their fitness levels, and de-stress with both yoga and guided meditation. The cherry on top, though, are the gratitude journaling prompts peppered through each week. So if you're someone who likes a journaling or would like a little more structure to help you cultivate a deeper sense of gratitude, this plan's for you.
For anyone out there struggling, or even for someone out there just going through the motions and not really living on purpose, you might want to start a gratitude journal. Make it simple, and do it just like I did. Get a notebook, keep it by your bed, and write one thing down before you go to sleep. Each day, look for something that'll make the book. If nothing changes for you, then you've lost nothing. But if something does change, you have everything to gain.