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Gratitude takes practice. Our old brain is wired differently than our thinking brain, with a negative bias that helped us to survive by scanning the environment for constant danger. This is why it's still so hard to focus on the positive in our child, practice self compassion and see the positive in our days. But with practice, we can train ourselves to do just that.
Thankfully, researchers in positive psychology have been working on developing and studying ways to counteract that negative bias for decades now.
Gratitude journaling is one of those great interventions that takes little time but yields a tremendous benefit
Most of us have glimpses and moments where we can feel gratitude. These moments are times where you wouldn't expect to. They can happen after a crisis is resolved or a disaster is narrowly avoided. You can feel grateful when you are reminded of a painful experience from your past that you are no longer dealing with. When a friend loses something dear to them or is going through a difficult experience and you can feel grateful that you aren't suffering in the same way.
But what if you didn't have to wait for these moments to arise to feel grateful? You can develop a more grateful outlook on life in general. Studies on the heritability of gratitude indicate that gratitude is more determined by things we have control over then our genes. This is good news.
Robert Emmons, an authority on gratitude, describes several facets of gratitude. You can monitor and deepen these facets with gratitude interventions, the most famous of which is gratitude journaling. Facets include:
1. The intensity of gratitude- the more you practice growing your gratitude the greater the intensity of your feeling to each experience
2. The frequency of gratitude- the more your practice being grateful, the more often and more easily you will grateful
3. The span of gratitude- the more you practice the greater the number of circumstances you can feel grateful for at any given time.
4. The density of gratitude- the more you practice the greater the number of persons you can feel grateful to
So what is a gratitude journal?
A gratitude journal is a journal where you write about what you are feeling grateful for. You can do this online or in a notebook. There is no need to do this every day, a few times a week will suffice. The important thing is to begin to train your brain against the negative bias, and to start to cultivate the trait of appreciating what you have been given. Gratitude can also help you to begin to see how we are all interconnected and decrease your sense of isolation, similar to self-compassion.
Note: It's important not to use gratitude as a way to shame or punish yourself. I have heard clients who have a negative and self critical voice use gratitude as a way to criticize themselves. They may scold themselves into trying to feel gratitude.
Their self-critical voice may say things such as "You should be grateful for this, others have less than you." This is not the purpose of gratitude.
If this is how you are hearing gratitude manifesting, you are tapped in to your self critical voice, and are not developing this helpful skill.
What do I need to know when gratitude journaling?
So instead of writing: "I am grateful for the morning."
Write"I am grateful for the warm rays of the sun and the chance to sit in my garden."
Journal about things that you are grateful for that surprised you
Gratitude journaling is just one of the many gratitude interventions. Give it a try and see if it doesn't provide a great benefit to your life.
Gratitude Journaling References
Emmons, R. A. (2013). Gratitude works!: a 21-day program for creating emotional prosperity. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.