I was over at a friend’s house recently who has been going through a divorce. I noticed he had cut out a picture from the newspaper of a boy from Iraq laying in the middle of the street, his bicycle warped in an awkward angle next to him, smoke and flames behind him. His face was full of anguish, and there was no denying the pain he felt. “Why do you have this picture on your fridge?” I asked him. He replied, “I look at it when I think I am having a bad day.”
We tend to focus on the negative:
Often we dwell on all the things we perceive to be going wrong, worrying and obsessing, and spend little time appreciating the things that are going right. Especially when we see ourselves through a lens of negativity, it is easy for this view to spill over into the rest of our lives.
Creating a different reality:
We do have choice about where we put our attention, and where we put our attention creates our reality. If we want to feel better about ourselves and our lives, we need to spend some time being grateful for what is going right.
A simple way to change our reality:
Set aside 5 minutes at the end of each day to keep a gratitude journal. Make a conscious effort to recall the good things that happened to you during your day. If you are struggling at first, think about things you take for granted, such as:
I woke up today and was not physically ill
My car did not break down on the way to work
The sun was shining
These are examples of things that we don’t really appreciate, until of course we wake up feeling sick, the car does break down, or we make our morning commute in the pouring rain.
Isn’t focusing on the positive denying the problematic aspects of life?
No. Being grateful for the good things in your life can exist simultaneously with accepting what isn’t going so well. It isn’t about becoming a pollyanna, but about recognizing that the positive things in our lives deserve our attention too.
But will keeping a gratitude journal really help me?
Professor Robert Emmons studies gratitude for a living as a Professor of Psychology at UC Davis and is Editor-In-Chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology. According to his research, keeping a gratitude journal 4 times a week, for as little as 3 weeks, is often enough to create a meaningful difference in one’s level of happiness. For more information on Dr. Emmons, please go to:
The picture on the fridge:
Just like my friend cut out a picture and put it on his fridge to remind him to feel grateful, giving yourself a reminder can be a helpful way to start. Other ideas might include: buying yourself a new journal and keeping it by your alarm clock, planting flowers near your front door, or hanging something from your rear-view mirror. Think of keeping a gratitude journal as an experiment- try it and see what happens!
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