What I Learned from Keeping a Gratitude Journal
by Rachel Dawson
Several years ago, I read “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp and it has had a lasting impact on my life. It was wildly popular and became a New York Times Bestseller, which didn’t surprise me one bit. It’s a “dare to live fully right where you are” and, in our fast-paced society, a pretty counter-cultural idea.
Throughout the book, Voskamp beautifully describes how she learned to notice and appreciate the many little gifts and blessings in her life and then record one thousand of them in her journal.
As I read through this book, I started a gratitude journal of my own. I’ve always been a journaler, so it wasn’t an entirely new concept to me, but this new focus has been life-changing.
There are many things that are commonly listed when we talk about what we are thankful for-- family, friends, church or community, a roof over our heads, food on the table, etc. Those are wonderful things that of course we should be thankful for. Voskamp’s goal of writing 1,000 gifts down challenged me to go deeper, though. My journal started with big things like family and friends, but as I kept going over time, I found that I started noticing more and more blessings (both big and small) in my life.
Knowing that I had a whole journal to fill helped me to see the little gifts all around me. It gave me a fresh lens to see my world through, and I found that my whole attitude shifted. Instead of stress or worry or anxiety driving my days, my focus was on gratitude and appreciation. I started to slow down more instead of always rushing so much, and in doing so, found so much more to be thankful for than ever before.
I noticed things like the pattern of the clouds in the sky, the way the steam from my morning mug of coffee seemed to dance in the air, the sweet elderly couple holding hands across the table at a restaurant, the joy in a wobbly toddler’s eyes when a dog walked by. I paid attention to the people around me better and found that I was more present and engaged when I spent time with them. I started keeping my eyes open more (literally and figuratively) and making mental notes of all the beauty I was seeing. I started giving myself more grace and loving myself better, because I was paying attention to what my heart and soul needed, too.
1,000 things seemed daunting at first. I didn’t think I could name that many things without them becoming redundant or ridiculous. What I found, though, was that my list went well past 1,000 things. Usually, once I started writing one thing down, I would think of another and another and another. Some days, it seemed like it would be nearly impossible to think of a single thing to be thankful for, but those were always the days I needed to open my journal the most. Sometimes, just reading over past things I had written was just the prompting I needed to write down new things.
Not everything I listed was profound or poetic-- some were as simple as being grateful for another day, or for a text from a friend that came at a moment when I felt particularly stressed, or for my favorite song coming on the radio during my commute. Some days, I wrote twenty things down, and some days, just one or two.
I’ve learned a lot about gratitude from keeping this little journal, and it has impacted my life in more ways than I ever expected a journal could. I encourage you to try it for yourself, even if just for this month as we approach Thanksgiving. Many people even post one thing they’re grateful for every day on Facebook, so that’s an easy way to start.
Just try to slow down a little today. Keep your eyes open. Look around you, look up, look into the eyes of the people you pass, look at the grass growing or the flowers blooming or the autumn leaves falling. Take time to notice and appreciate the beauty of the world around you, and take a few extra minutes to write it all down. You’ll be surprised how gratitude can change your whole perspective on life and give you reason upon reason to praise the Creator of it all.
Intersecting Faith and Life
Even if you're not a journaler, try this exercise of writing down your gratitudes each day for 30 days. Then see if you can keep it up!