As we step into 2023, I have an invitation for you. Instead of the New Year, New You vibe, maybe we shift that to New Year, More Gratitude. New Year, More Clarity. New Year, Still Healing. New Year, Deeper Understanding.
Back in the Spring, I shared about creating an accessible practice of gratitude with journaling. A lot of folks asked how to start, what to write, and when to do it. And while I don’t have the answers to what will work for you, I’m sharing 5 things that have worked for me here. I really like to keep things simple and easeful.
Starting a gratitude practice doesn't have to be a deep or emotionally laborious experience. You don't have to be at your rock bottom like I was. In fact, I recommend starting before the fall. You don't need to be experiencing feelings of ungratefulness to begin, either. Deciding to center gratitude in your life is such a gift. It's a small act of presence, mindfulness, and care that we can gift to ourselves daily—no matter what type of day we're having.
Gratitude is grounding.
I've grown to love my gratitude practice because it reminds me to find ease and beauty in what's in front of me. We often overlook the little things. The micro-moments in our lives are worthy of our attention. As a writer, keeping a gratitude journal makes the most sense to me. It also serves as a time capsule—which is really cool. Putting things on the page can remind us where we've been and how we've grown. It also keeps us connected to our humanity and possibilities to experience true presence. I enjoy going back through my journal and looking at the things that brought me joy and gratefulness in previous entries.
Here are a few tips to start your gratitude journaling practice:
Find a journal that you'll enjoy writing in. This was extremely important to me because I wanted to feel a sense of joy when I sat down to write. Sitting around, I had the journal below, waiting to be used at the perfect time. I'd been saving it for something special. The design makes me smile, I like leaving it out on my nightstand because it's pretty, and I get excited about writing in it when I see it. This may sound miniscule to some, but having tools in your practice that excite you is a small but beautiful way to create a consistent ritual. I added tabs to the pages to keep them organized. The process of setting up my journal was a moment of gratitude in itself.
Pencil in your practice. Choose a time of day that you can realistically add to your journal. Set an alarm that goes off at the same time every day. I personally enjoy nighttime gratitude reflections because it invites me to recount my day and look for the small things that may have brought me joy. My journaling session isn't long. Most days, it's just five minutes from start to finish. I sit in my book nook corner on my meditation pillows, taking a few deep breaths before starting. Some days my gratitude list is longer than others, but truthfully the length isn't important. What's important is the action of making and taking the time to get quiet, tune in, and be grateful for the moment in front of me.
Make a small goal and take inventory of how you feel at the beginning and end. Starting small is valuable. Baby steps in creating a new ritual and practice are just as important as the major milestones. Set a realistic goal and stick to it. Maybe you choose to do a seven-day gratitude journaling practice. Take note of your mindset the day you begin, and the day you end. At the end of the seven days, you may decide that you want to keep going. I started with thirty days, and it was transformative for my mental health. Like walking, gratitude practice is now a part of my daily life.
Be flexible. There will be days when you forget or don't feel like it. Don't beat yourself up over it. We don't want the practice to turn into a hassle. We want this to be easeful and a gift of rest and recentering. On the days you may forget, write that down. Here's something I wrote: "I forgot to write my gratitude yesterday, but I am grateful that I remembered today." On the days you don't want to show up, write that down. Another personal example: "I don't feel like reflecting today, but I am grateful that I'm being honest about how I really feel." It's important to remember that gratitude practice isn't performative, and it doesn't have to be camouflaged by toxic positivity or looking on the bright side. You are allowed to show up however you feel and however you are. There is beauty in your honesty, especially on the days when gratitude feels out of reach. I can always tell when I wasn't feeling my practice because my journal will say: I am grateful for my breath. Sometimes that's all we got and that, too, is okay.
Get creative. There have been days when writing felt too hard, so I voice noted my feelings instead. This is one of my favorite things to do when pen and paper feel like too much. The next day, I'll go back and listen, which always feels a bit awkward but is tremendously helpful. I reflect on the things that stick out to me the most with gratitude in mind and add it to my journal. Making this practice your own is important. It doesn't have to look one way or the other. You can find your flow with time, effort, and consistency.
Happy New Year, everyone. I hope these tips are helpful starting points. If you want to hear more about anything else, please leave a comment, and I'm happy to answer your questions.
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Just posted on gratitude today, one of my 5 under valued characteristics! Great post enjoyed the read, I am aiming to keep track of my gratitude throughout the new year, as in previous years I merely practiced it without writing it down.
It is absolutely the micro-moments, as you call them, the ordinary-extraordinary details that so often pass unnoticed, that make a difference. I'd say that not only does a gratitude practice have incredible power to improve a life, but it cannot help but make one a better writer, because it is the practice of attention.
Mary Oliver wrote "Instructions for living a life: 1. pay attention. 2. be astonished. 3. tell me about it". I often tell my students that these are the exact instructions I would give for writing a life as well. And - I think the 'be astonished' part, is what gratitude is. It's essential to notice, because everything starts there... but if you are not astonished - if you do not find the wonder (which stems from or leads to gratitude) then you don't have much of anything magical to tell me about.
And I truly think that when we take the time to give ourselves over to this practice, everything changes.