I’m lucky in that I grew up in a loving family. I always did well in school and despite my shyness, I always had good friends. Why, then, did I spend most of my childhood into my early adulthood depressed? Depression does run on both sides of my family, so there’s that. But part of what contributed to my years of depression was my own negative outlook on life. An outlook I unknowingly chose to have. Now, at the time I didn’t feel like I was choosing it. In fact, I felt like it was choosing ME.
Throughout high school I was, what I like to now call, a “dark” journaler…you know the kind…the journaling you do where you write down all the things that suck about your life and how you’re pretty sure they’re never going to get better. It’s the type of journaling you do when you feel like you are a victim of your own life. Did that kind of journaling actually help me back then? Perhaps in a way, it did. It allowed me a safe place to put down all the thoughts that cluttered my mind on sometimes a daily basis. How was it for me to go back and read said journal entries? Not.good.
Rereading my “dark” journal entries just brought me back to “dark” times and “dark” feelings: the guilt and shame I felt around being depressed when I had a good life, self-consciousness I felt around how I looked, comparing myself to others who seemed to have it better than me, and so on.
I was a senior in college when I happened to catch an episode of Oprah where she talked about gratitude journaling and how gratitude journaling changed her life. I was skeptical but intrigued. By the end of her show I found myself walking to the university’s bookstore to pick out, for the first time, my very own gratitude journal. I couldn’t wait to try it. Heck, if it worked for Oprah, maybe it could work for me too!
The following several days I would pull out my gratitude journal at the end of the day to write in it and do you know what I wrote? Nothing. I wrote absolutely nothing. I could not think of a single good thing that happened during those days. Perhaps I was waiting for an epiphany to happen, but by day #4 I felt defeated and, well, depressed. What the hell? Oprah said this shit would work.
On day #5 I decided that I would be more intentional that day about looking for things to be grateful for. I decided that no gratitude would be too small. I began to write things down such as, “I am grateful that someone held the door open for me today on my way into my dorm”, “I am grateful that I got an ‘A’ on my child psychology paper”, “I am grateful that they served my favorite dinner in the cafeteria tonight”.
Well, what do you know? I could do it. It didn’t come easy to me, not at first at least, but I was determined. As days and weeks and months went by it became easier and easier for me to find things throughout my day that were gratitude journal worthy.
What I have now come to realize many years later is that I have literally trained my brain to scan my environment for the “good stuff”: sunny days, hot coffee, beautiful flowers, the sound of a child laughing, a clean house, a hot shower, a warm embrace, catching the glance of a stranger and saying “hello”, dinner with my love, belly laughing with friends. It can be as simple as the scent of your neighbor’s freshly cut grass, or as specific as the love letter your seven-year-old daughter wrote to you telling you how you are the best mom EVER. No gratitude is too small.
I love sharing with my clients the concept of gratitude journaling. I even love when they are skeptical or cynical about it. I never pressure, but I do encourage them to give it a try. If they are interested, I let them pick from my collection of over 30 (not written in) journals – I’m a bit of a journal junkie.
I continue to gratitude journal to this day and I credit gratitude journaling as one of the main contributing factors to my overall contentment. One of the things that I pride myself on as a therapist and a life coach is that I truly practice what I preach. If you’re interested in learning more about gratitude journaling and how it can change your life, call today to schedule an appointment with me!
Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash