I started a gratitude journal maybe 10 year ago. I think it was after some tragic break up. But, it had much more impact on me than that relationship ever did. Many people have said it before, but for me it has been one of the most profound practices in terms of its impact on my happiness. I usually write down at least five things that I have been grateful for that day before I go to sleep at night. It is usually in a nice black Moleskin diary with those soft blank pages. Lately I have been using an iPad app (perhaps not as writer-in-Paris-romantic). But recently at the end of the day, I haven’t even had enough energy to pick up a pen, or tap on a screen. So I have resorted to saying the five things to myself in my head as I crawl into bed. I very rarely make it to five things before my brain shuts down, or my mind drifts off to the list of things I have to do tomorrow, or I fall into some weird cosmic dream state. This is really scraping the bottom of the nappy-bucket when it comes to gratitude. I know this practice isn’t particularly helpful, not very conscious (in more than one sense of the word), and it certainly doesn’t have the same power as when I write down my feelings of gratitude. Then I feel guilty for not doing what I know helps me be happy. Guilt of course does even less for one’s happiness. And if I’m not going to write in my journal I should at least accept that as it is – oops I’m berating myself for not accepting that I wasn’t grateful.
Ok, so clearly I need to re-instigate gratitude, but in a practical way. Before I do that, I thought it might be interesting to read through some of my last entries to see what clues they provide as to what truly makes me happy.
Here we go: a slight insight into my soul. I am a pretty driven, ambitious, and hard working person. I am currently working full time in a field that I am passionate about, I travel overseas for work pretty regularly, I am finishing a book to be published sometime this year, I am studying a new language, and of course trying to be a loving mother and wife. But as I look back on what I am most grateful for and what patterns are repeated, I am surprised. It is the small things that keep coming up… ‘a 30 minute nap’, ‘that Monkey only woke up twice in the night’, ‘a purple flower’, ‘the softness of Monkey’s skin’, ‘time to meditate’, ‘my body that provides life and nourishment’, ‘the horizon’. There is virtually no reference to my career, although there is mention of gratitude for meeting inspiring people, or learning something new or sharing ideas. But the most common thing I am grateful for is when I get to spend quality time with my husband and son. Three things I conclude from this review:
- Just reading about my gratitude fills me with thanks and joy. It works. And I need to do more of it. What we focus on expands, so just by thinking about the things that are great in our lives, we notice even more great things, and more great things happen.
- Small things bring me joy – a flower, a break, a hug. This makes sense; I knew this deep down but had never really articulated it before. Actually it is not the small things that brings us joy, but that small things take up less space in our consciousness and so by observing the small things there is space to feel the true joy that already exists within you. This is why many meditation practices are based around observing something simple – a flower, your breath, a sound. Joy underlies everything. It is already there; you just have to be still enough to notice it.
- It is a bit of a contradiction but I think that spending time with my family is so common as a source of gratitude because it is a relatively uncommon occurrence. What I mean is quality time with my family is too rare. This needs to change. I need to make more time for the most important relationships in my life to be happy. No excuses.
So what is my plan of action?
- I will write in my gratitude journal in the mornings when I am not falling asleep.
- I will tell Monkey the things I am grateful for as part of our nightly bath, book, ‘nudie time’ routine – even though he can’t talk yet I think that sharing this with him is something we can do together and I also hope that this instils in him feelings of gratitude for his own life.
- I will reinstitute and reprioritise date nights with Mr Bread.
- I will be home from work by 6pm every night.