I believe it was around my eighth year that my mother announced we had a new family project. It was a few days before New Year’s Eve, and she told us that as our family’s New Year’s Resolution, we would all be starting gratitude journals. This is an exercise familiar to many, but one that I don’t know is widely practiced. As little girls of ten, eight, and five, respectively, we didn’t really understand the concept at first. We did understand that we would get to go to Barnes and Noble and would get to pick out a new journal, though, so we were thrilled.
The first night that we sat down to write, we realized that this was actually not that difficult of a thing to do. The novelty of a new activity inspired us, and if I am remembering correctly, mom had to cut us off because we were all writing way too much (read: our slow childlike handwriting was making this go on for an hour and my stickler-for-bedtime-scheduling mother had had enough). It was quite easy to think of things to be thankful for because, put simply, we lived really joyful lives. Especially when it is the first time you participate in journaling, you have all of the classics to go to: I’m thankful for my home, my family, my friends, etc. It is when you do this daily that you really start to examine what gratitude means, and why it is so important to actively think about it.
I love looking at these journals because they are such a wonderful glimpse into my childhood mind. Reading through, there are so many visible signs of growth. They start with the slanted handwriting of a child, and go in and out between the cursive I was learning in Mrs. Kaye’s third grade class. There are nights where you can tell I was given suggestions by my mom or my sisters because I “just couldn’t think of anything,” and nights where it is my mom’s handwriting because I was sick, or lazy, or we were in a hurry. I distinctly remember doing these out loud with my sisters, and how mad we would get if one of us copied another one. In the minds of a child, only one of us could be thankful we ordered pizza that night! This of course, spawned the “secretive gratitude journal phase” where we would write in private and not show each other until after we were all done so nobody could copy. We needed our “atta girls” from mom, so there was no way we weren’t going to share period!
I remember sharing my journal with a friend around fifth grade. She flipped through it haphazardly and then made some offhand comment about why I wrote about stuff like getting to order pizza. I was humiliated! Was this thing that I thought was so cool actually so very lame? Or worse, was I just not good at it? Were my thoughts of gratitude and my prayers of thankfulness sub-par?
I so wish I could go back and lay out some Legos for that friend to walk on bare feet with. How dare she be so critical? Of course, I am not as outraged now, rather, I am just so very sad for her that she simply didn’t get it. The purpose of having a gratitude journal isn’t so you can always write poetry about your immense gratefulness to the universe that the wind blows life into your lungs as you become one with the sun and the stars. We are simply people, most of us in an everyday routine. The gratitude journal allows you to remove yourself from the routine for however long you write in it, and think on what little things beyond the ordinary made the day wonderful.
Some days it is hard. Strike that, some days it is REALLY hard to come up with things you are grateful for. There was a period towards the end of my teaching career where I had gone home crying for three days straight. I had nothing to write down and was furious at myself for even suggesting that I do write something down. It felt fake, contrived, and frankly, I just wanted to be mad. But instead, I forced myself to think on one teensy tiny thing that I was thankful for. You know what I came up with? That I had remembered to pack myself a piece of dark chocolate for after lunch. That was it. A 45 calorie piece of Dove chocolate that was devoured in six seconds. But it was something. There is always something to be thankful for. To be completely honest, I called my mom later that day distraught that “all I had to be thankful for was a stupid piece of chocolate!!” I was in such a dark place that I couldn’t see the light for the trees. The point, though, is that there was a teeny piece of a chocolate. Even on a day where my heart was shadowed in such hate, there was still one thing to be thankful for.
I like to categorize the things I am thankful for. The first is the really high level things. These are the obvious, huge items that you feel so guilty for not saying thank you for more often. I am thankful I was born into a loving family. I am thankful for the kind and generous man I get to call my husband. I am thankful for a roof over my head, two feet I can walk on, and friends to catch me when I fall. Then there are the small, day to day things. These are the ones even my eight year old self could come up with. I am thankful that there was a short line at Starbucks this morning. I am thankful that my navy blue ankle pants were clean so I could wear them to work today. I am thankful that there wasn’t much traffic on the Key Bride on the way to work. While the high level gratitude is of more importance, and they are the ones that give me peace, safety, and sanity, the little ones should not be overlooked.
Would I still be a happy person if there was traffic? Sure. Will I look back on my life when my days are done and remember that on a bad day I had a piece of chocolate? Probably not. But that doesn’t make these little things any less important, nor am I any less grateful for them. The practice of writing these down, however uncomfortable I am with it sometimes, reminds you to say thank you. Sometimes I thank God, sometimes the universe, sometimes I even thank myself (seriously, remembering to pack chocolate at 5 am is a feat. I deserved a medal). Whomever is responsible for the joy put in your life, remembering to actively say thank you at the end of each day helps you go to bed happier. When you go to bed happy, you wake up with a more settled heart. And that, is something to be thankful for.