As we get into the new year, I’ve decided to start a gratitude journal. I’m not sure why, I just had an impulse. But I think the impulse comes from where I was at the end of last year. In late fall, the press I published The Forgetting Flower through, went on indefinite hiatus due to the publisher’s medical issues. That hurt. Then, a close loved one was in financial trouble, also hard. But I think worst, my dog died. You know how people say, “What’s the matter? You look like your dog just died.” Yeah, well, that was me.
A New Year Brings New Beginnings
Still, despite all that, I knew I still had a good life. I had a supportive husband, three great kids, and three sweet animals. I had a house and a garden and enough money. Once, I started mentally listing what I did have, I felt better.
Buddhist philosophers believe that to focus on what you have rather than what you don’t have creates happiness. When you focus on what you want, you will suffer. It’s such a simple concept and yet so true. Modern psychological tests back this up. People who focus on what they’re grateful for are happier than those who don’t. I realized I was grateful for what I had but needed to keep better track of those blessings. Like in writing. So I wouldn’t take them for granted.
Artifacts That Spark Joy
I procrastinated getting the journal because I wasn’t sure if I should use my old Ideas & Journal notebook for this or a fresh notebook. And what kind? A composition book? A beautifully bound journal? Something recyclable? Before I knew it, I was paralyzed by the indecision that came with finding the silly notebook that I needed to start. So I left the task alone.
Then, the other day, I went to my local garden nursery. While shopping for a pot for a houseplant, I noticed a basket on display. It had several small journals inside, all decorated on the outside with plants. One even had the leaves of tropical plants and they’re accompanying botanical names. The cover was beautiful. And without a plastic or glossy cover, it was recyclable. Boom! Done!
I’d found the pure inspiration I’d needed at a plant nursery. Of course, I did. It was almost too predictable. But in the end, a regular notebook would have worked. Even a bunch of paper stapled together. The physical object doesn’t really matter that much, does it?
How to Create a Gratitude Journal
As my first entry I wrote that I was grateful for garden nurseries and botanical journals that had drawings of plant leaves with accompanying Latin names. My second was the thanks I felt for my family. The third was for having a good place to live. But from then on, where did I go? I didn’t want to just repeat the same things over and over again.
I wanted to go deeper, get more detailed. Get in touch with what was happening in my life. So I looked around the interwebs and found this great article from Shutterfly. It has an outstanding list of prompts to get your thoughts flowing. Like: Pick a random photo and write about why you’re grateful for that memory. Or: List three people who helped you through a tough situation.
I like the idea of mining my memories and experiences for detailed imaginative material
Getting Acquainted With Gratitude
Keeping this journal is still new to my life. I’m not really a self-help type. However, I’ve found articulating what is so good about my life makes me instantly and extremely happy. Despite our political situation in the U.S., I still have a lot to be grateful for. And that gratitude super-charges my soul so that I can be available and present to others. That may be the best gift out of this whole endeavor.
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Writer Ann Patchett says it all in this quote about the creation of art and the importance of forgiveness. It’s from her article, “The Getaway Car,” reprinted in This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage.
Forgiveness. The ability to forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life. Every time I have set out to translate the book … that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper (which, let’s face it, was once a towering tree crowned with leaves and a home to birds), I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time.
Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing.
For more inspiration on writing, check out these other articles.