By Romily Bernard
You know those days when nothing goes right? When the dog suddenly decides to chew your favorite shoes? When you discover the shirt you need is still in the wash — which of course you forgot to empty so the whole load will have to be rerun? Or better yet, what about those days when the preschooler decides going to the potty is boring so she’s not going to ‘pee-pee’ anymore? Like ever again.
Okay, that last one might be me, but I bet there are plenty of moms out there who can top it. These are the days it’s so hard to find anything beautiful because everything is so…messy. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, if you can take ten minutes out of every day to practice finding the beautiful in the messy, I bet you’ll start to see it everywhere. It’s a matter of shifting your thoughts. Even better, it’s easier than you think.
Sure, we’ve all heard about how a positive mindset can do more than boost your mood. It can also increase your creativity, your productivity, but perhaps most importantly, it alters your perceptions. A positive outlook is so powerful that an entire industry has been created around helping people find it. There are books, courses, lectures, podcasts, but in order to get started, you don’t need any of them. You only need a notebook and ten minutes a day.
Sound too good to be true? It’s not. It’s called gratitude journaling. If the concept sounds simple it’s because it is. Every day, you take your notebook, write down a few things you’re grateful for…and then you put it away until tomorrow.
Yes, that’s it. Seriously. Advocates for gratitude journals recommend writing in them every morning and it’s easy to see why. When done regularly, gratitude journals can shift your mindset into something positive. You begin every day with positivity (things you’re happy/grateful/mindful of) and productivity (you just got an entire list accomplished). Furthermore, the questions you ask yourself don’t have to be prescriptive. Play around with what feels right. It could be…
Five Things I Am Lucky To Have
Five Things That Make My Family Comfortable
Five Things That Make Me Happy
Five Things I Believe In
See the pattern? Your list can itemize tiny details or large moral philosophies. It doesn’t matter. The point is reminding yourself what really matters to you—or better yet, that sullen high-schooler who thinks cleaning her/his bathroom is a human rights violation. Your kids might not want to sit down and formally record their emotions, but you can coax it out of them in other moments. Ask them what they’re grateful for — and if that doesn’t work, ask them what the best part of their day was. You can even be sneaky, asking them before bed or in the car or during quiet moments.
What was the best thing that happened to you today?
What do you love the most about your best friend?
What made you smile today?
After all, talking it out can be easier than writing it down. Sitting in front of a blank page can feel daunting. Gratitude journaling suddenly feels formal. You — or your former preschooler who is now a high-schooler — might get embarrassed or feel silly or think all the entries need to be profound in case they’re eventually discovered, but please don’t overthink it. Gratitude journals are personal.
The point is training your mind to find the small (but beautiful) details all around you. It’s simple. Truly.
That being said, it’s not always easy. The trick to gratitude journals — in any form — is constantly coming up with new material, and of course, keeping up with them. Once people find their rhythm, they mostly don’t struggle with their lists. Things you’re grateful for can be as simple as your breakfast was especially tasty or as huge as your son studied incredibly hard and aced his chemistry quiz. Once you let yourself open up, the possibilities are endless.
But many people — teenager, middle-schooler, or adult — can struggle with keeping up with their gratitude journaling and consistency is key for any mindset shift. There’s a lot of debate surrounding habit-forming. Does it take 21 days? 30 days? Longer? Most likely it depends on the person and the difficulty of the new habit. Sitting with your thoughts and writing them down may feel like torture to you, but is infinitely easier for your friend — or vice versa. You might take to journaling with delight or it might take you longer to become comfortable with yourself. Whether you have to push through the first 30 days or it brings you joy to write through the first 30 days, you have to keep up with gratitude journaling in order to reap the benefits.
Still sounds too intimidating to try? It doesn’t have to be. Let’s look at some different ways of handling them. Journaling doesn’t have to be journaling. If the thought of sitting down in front of a blank notebook page gives you terror sweats and flashbacks to ninth-grade creative writing, try a different approach:
What about a gratitude jar? Take scraps of paper and write down whatever you feel blessed to have and then put the scraps in the jar. Once every few months, open the jar up and read what you or your family have written.
Writing it down doesn’t work for you? Try recording your thoughts on your phone or computer. You can preserve them for eventual playback.
Are you artistic? Illustrate your ideas in whatever medium speaks to you.
Ultimately, there’s no wrong way to do this. You just have to explore which way means the most to you.