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How a Gratitude Journal Stopped Me Feeling Half-Empty

12/06/2016 10:49 | Updated 13 June 2016
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Today marks my one month anniversary of keeping a gratitude journal. And boy am I feeling grateful.

That might sound like I'm taking the piss, but in all honesty it's been such a positive experience that I decided to try to indoctrinate everyone by blogging about my new-found gratefulness.

Gratitude is nothing new, of course. But it was something I didn't even know I was lacking, until I found it again.

Despite being the life and soul of the party, most people I know would be surprised to learn that I'm terribly anxious and tend to see the world as half-empty.

I blame perfectionism, which means I'm never truly happy with my lot. I'm slowly learning to be more realistic and fair with myself, but breaking a 28-year-old habit isn't easy.

A month ago today I had a particularly rapid downwards spiral after work one evening. I turned up at the wrong venue for a gym class and before I knew it, I was reevaluating my life choices, questioning my relationships, and worrying about money - just like that: a Tuesday night ruined.

So when I arrived home later that night, I decided it was time to start my gratitude journal, an idea I'd been toying with for a while.

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My jazzy gratitude journal

Arianna Huffington is a strong believer in the power of gratitude. Writing in her book Thrive, she said: "Gratitude works its magic by serving as an antidote to negative emotions. It's like white blood cells for the soul, protecting us from cynicism, entitlement, anger, and resignation."

Sheryl Sandberg is another advocate. Following her husband's tragic death last year, Sandberg made it her 2016 New Year's Resolution to keep a gratitude journal.

"Finding gratitude and appreciation is key to resilience," she during her commencement speech at the University of California at Berkeley this year. "People who take the time to list things they are grateful for are happier and healthier. It turns out that counting your blessings can actually increase your blessings."

So here's what I've learned so-far, after 31 days of keeping a gratitude diary.

You don't have to write it in every day

Some people recommend writing in your gratitude diary every night, but I don't think that's necessary. As someone with a busy social life, rarely do two evenings look the same, and adding yet another thing to my daily to do list felt slightly counterproductive.

Instead I've allowed myself to be flexible: sometimes I write in my diary for a few nights in a row, other times a few days will pass before it even crosses my mind.

You can write whatever you want in it

Long entries, short entries: it really doesn't matter. When I started I wrote long(ish) pieces about a handful of important people in my life, but I've also written shorter entries about specific events.

The entries needn't all be deep or serious either, simple pleasures (such as a delicious dinner or a sunny cycle ride) can also boost you mood and are worth noting down.

No one is ever going to read it

My British cynicism meant it did feel weird writing first of all. But once you realise the book is private, it becomes easier to gush and give yourself a pat-on-the-back (another thing many of us find it hard to do).

And if you're worried about prying eyes: keep your dairy hidden or use one of those 90s diaries with the little padlocks.

You can read it when you feel low

You don't always have to write in your diary, it's also great to read over what you've previously written to remind you of the good things in your life.

I've only done this once this month, but I figure, as the year goes on, being able to look back at past worries will help put things in perspective.

Often its presence is often enough to keep you feeling positive

Even if your diary is hidden under the floorboard, or wherever you've chosen to hide it, knowing it exists is enough.

You'll always know, wherever you are, that you have a book full of happy thoughts. This should reassure you that things really aren't that bad - or that if they are that bad, there are also good things in your life, too.

Of course it's not the answer to everything

I'm not claiming that this is some sort of miracle cure. Only that is has helped me gain perspective over the past month.

Sometimes I still get overwhelmed or negative thoughts, but they seem to be fewer and farther between.

In summary, the diary is working for me, for now, and I'd urge anyone to try it out.

We often don't think that we can change the way we feel. We focus on the negative and think things are out of our control. Writing a gratitude diary has given me some of that power back and for that I am eternally grateful.

Got any other tips about gratitude diaries? I'd love to hear them. Tweet me @Brogan_Driscoll

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