Gratitude, smatitude. Does a gratitude journal really work? Is it worth the effort? People have been counting their blessings for centuries, so it must work, right? Well as it turns out, the answer all depends on how and why we count our blessings.
Studies on having and attitude of gratitude cite an array of benefits, including better health, stronger interpersonal relationships, better sleep and improved self-esteem. As life becomes increasingly stressful, keeping a gratitude journal has become a magic cure-all for some. However, as with anything, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.
Gratitude journals/lists are not a magic spell that will make all right in the world — done too often, or if they become an obsession, the attitude of gratitude can easily backfire and do more harm than good.
“Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” —Charles Dickens
There have been many studies on gratitude and researchers generally try to define what gratitude means, so they can better measure it — this entails a “thank you” component in which one is grateful for or, to someone, and a “recognition” aspect, in which we acknowledge that the good/benefit came from an external source. The general idea is that the person keeping a gratitude journal/list is acknowledging the positives and blessings in their life, rather than focusing on worries and stresses.
The basic principle is that we should be thankful and focus more on our blessings than on any negatives. Simple concept, right? It is indeed and, it’s right on the mark. But being grateful isn’t a fad or a new-age magic cure-all. We all have moments in life in which we feel grateful, but the key is to expand on that feeling — to look for all the positives in our life and count those blessings every day.
In an effort to feel gratitude and be a better person, Benjamin Franklin went so far as to write “A Plan for Attaining Moral Perfection” — his goal was to truly be a good person by embodying thirteen virtues, including kindness and gratitude. But Ben’s mission was also to help others and improve the world around him — this is why upon waking in the morning, Ben Franklin asked “What good shall I do this day?”
Which brings me to my point….
Gratitude journal’s are fantastic, but at some point, if we become so focused on writing things in that journal every single day, it will eventually become a chore and it will quickly lose its meaning. Having an attitude of gratitude isn’t meant to be just some list we write out when we have the time, but is really about changing our whole outlook on life. It’s about re-shaping our thoughts so we can be more positive in every aspect of our life and thus, in a better frame-of-mind to help ourselves, as well as others.
Many people start out journaling their gratitude daily, then transition to weekly, because the ultimate goal is to have that attitude of gratitude be a naturally occurring part of their being — something they feel all the time. It’s that inner, constant prayer or acknowledgement of gratitude that truly uplifts and propels us to ask “what good shall I do today?”