During lockdown it was easy to recognise the things that were missing from regular life, things I longed for. My family and I would talk at great lengths at what we would do first when we were finally able to be out and about. The list varied from hugging friends to getting a barista made coffee to going on our favourite walk. It was easy to talk about the things we could no longer do or have and so it became easy to become upset, irritable or anxious that life wouldn’t return to what it once was. With this playing on my mind I decided that, rather than spending lockdown life looking to the uncertain future and what I didn't have, I would try and focus on the present. To recognise not the things I was missing but the things I was grateful for being. Now that the country is well into level 1 life, I have taken some time to look back on my daily gratitude entries and this is what I’ve learnt.
It’s hard to commit to it everyday but stick with it
Gratitude is an emotion, mood and personality trait and for some the feeling of gratitude comes easier than for others. It’s a spontaneous feeling, however research suggests that the practice of gratitude, making a conscious effort to recognise the good things in your day, can increase and create a climate of positivity where gratitude is felt inward but also extends outward to those around you.
Daily gratitude is the exercise of writing one or more things down each day that you are grateful for. To do this I bought a very simple notebook from the supermarket and wrote the date in the margin before writing something down everyday. I did this in the evening before bed. Initially it was a challenge to get into the habit of putting into words and formally writing something that I was grateful for each day. It was easy to focus on the things that hadn’t gone to plan. However, with a little time, I could spot the parts of the day I was grateful for and before long I was feeling the emotion of gratitude in my day not just before bed when looking back. As the days went by, the commitment of writing something each day felt less and less of a challenge. I wanted to seek out the good things in a day.
Gratitude is in things, people and moments
I noticed, upon reading and reflecting on my daily gratitudes, that initially I was often grateful for things and my statements were very surface level - I was stating the obvious. My first day of gratitude included: my cup of coffee this morning, Netflix and my partner. After a week or so my thoughts and writing changed and my gratefulness had greater detail, greater meaning:
“I enjoyed my coffee outside today, a completely blue sky. The leaves have started to turn.”
“I loved hearing my partner singing in the shower, made me smile”
“The birdsong on my walk - it is so loud with less cars on the roads”
I began noticing things in my neighbourhood, on TV, talking with friends online that I hadn’t thought of before. Slowly it became more like a challenge to really notice things. Let’s face it, I could’ve written “my morning coffee” down everyday but that wasn’t going to keep my mind alert to new grateful moments. Gratitude journaling is effective because it gradually changes the way we perceive situations because our focus adjusts.
Being grateful doesn’t mean everything is sunshine and rainbows
“To be grateful is to live in a state of attentiveness not a state of bliss which is why you can be grateful for something and really struggle with many aspects of it”
There were some days, having written my gratitude entry, that I recognised that the self same thing was a source of other feelings. I was very grateful to eat my homemade version of chicken nuggets and chips, but at the same time I was pretty exhausted at the two hours it took me to prepare and cook it all for the family! Similarly I was very grateful at having the time to catch up and chat with my friends in the UK one evening, but it did mean I had a very late night and the feeling of missing them stung a bit deeper than usual. Taking part in daily gratitude doesn’t mean that everything becomes perfect; it means that we are present, we pay attention to the moment in front of us or a moment that has passed for all that it is. We see and feel the good parts and the exhausting or upsetting parts, but choose to focus and put pen to paper to the things we are thankful for.
“I miss my friends and I’m thankful to have close friends who make the effort to speak to me… even if I am on the other side of the world!”
Studies and research have shown that gratitude in our daily lives improves our psychological, physical and social wellbeing. Some of the ways feeling grateful can affect our body and mind are: improved mood, lower blood pressure, better sleep, more harmonious relationships with people (both strangers and loved ones), increased resilience and studies found that you are more likely to take care of your body.
Sharing with others spreads the gratitude and positive thinking
Gratitude is contagious! After a few weeks of journaling, those around me were noticing outwardly positive things in a day too. After walking into the kitchen to me dancing to an awesome tune on the radio, my partner exclaimed “Well this is a moment for the gratitude journal!” It immediately made the moment more meaningful. I’ve read of families having a gratitude jar with scrap paper nearby to write and add any positive moments in the day to the jar. Children sharing what they want added from their time at school or time at the park. Gratitude is a social emotion and expressing your feeling of gratitude towards others, whether communicated verbally or not, pays itself forward.
It’s been a month of daily gratitude journaling and I’m still going! Moving down the levels of lockdown, I have felt even more grateful for the things in my day that I had once taken for granted. Trust the process of keeping a daily gratitude journal, stick with it. The more we practice focusing on the good, the more we feel good, the more our brains get used to searching the World for positivity and firing in ways that leave us feeling fulfilled and happy.