A Simple Light in the Dark

investigates the rise of the gratitude journal and its effect as a way of achieving a positive mindset

‘Self-care”,“gratitude”, “positivity” and “growth” are just some of the words that are ruling social media, forming the basis of up and coming magazines such as Breathe and have generally become a bit of a “trend”. It is questionable whether the notion of self-care and its current associations such as with books published by celebrities as well as diaries and journals are all a publicity stunt and a subtle means of consumerism. With it becoming a momentous trend, it is often easy to become shielded from the true motives of some publishers who spy a niche in the market and grab the opportunity to make some money, rather than truly catering for people’s well-being. Nevertheless, this is a dismal and cynical perspective to hold; it is great to see a massive increase in awareness of mental health issues and the importance of caring for yourself.

One of the growing features of this movement is the “gratitude” journal. As the name suggests, it takes the form of a journal or diary in which you can jot down, either briefly or in depth, the things you are grateful for. Yoga-loving, crystal-wearing, incense-burning, peaceful warriors may come to mind and you’d be right, but also wrong. Famous faces from Oprah, to Emma Watson, to Pat Flynn, all use gratitude journals as a means of focusing on the good, and in turn project it onto their futures. Positive psychology looks to promote the feeling of gratitude which runs parallel to positivity, suggesting and indeed illustrating the mental health benefits that this feeling can nurture. It is common for people to focus on the negatives that are occurring in their lives: the build up of work, lack of money, body image, friendship issues… and this can be made so much worse by the “highlight reel” of life that social media encourages. Moving away from that sort of headspace can be hard and sometimes seeking help is the necessary course of action; however, keeping a gratitude journal can significantly alter your mindset for the better.

Credit: Lily Abel

It has been suggested that the best time to sit and fill in your journal is either in the morning just as you wake up, or at night, just before bed. Either of these are fine and hold the key for this means of positivity to have a significant impact. By writing in your journal as soon as you wake up, your brain must immediately consider the positives in your life, steering away from any worries or stresses you may initially feel about the day ahead. It sounds simple, but by doing this you are setting yourself up to view the day in a better light and appreciate life for what it is. Something similar can be said for choosing to create your list at night. Writing just before bed enables you to look back at your day and notice the positives that were not clear to you in that moment; that queue for lunch was frustrating, but you bumped into a friend you hadn’t seen for ages. Doing it at night creates a positive closure to your day and again diminishes your worries. This can be beneficial for inducing a good night’s sleep (turn that phone off!)

There are no proper instructions on how to create a gratitude journal; it simply depends on how you want to use it. Simply listing, in the briefest form, things you are grateful for, whether that is for the yummy lunch you had today, your family or that glass (or bottle) of wine you consumed, note it down. Bullet point it, paragraph it, draw it, or do all those things. If you want to be creative and find that writing is a way of offloading stress, write poetically, or in fine detail, make it into a personal story about why you are grateful for something. The more things you can note down every day, the better. Of course, you can repeat things and some days you may have more to add, others less. The important thing here is to make sure it becomes a habit (allegedly, this takes 21 days). If it helps, set an alarm in the morning or at night to remind you; the more you do it, the more natural it becomes and the greater the beneficial impact it has on your mental health.

This journal is personal to you, so choosing one can be exciting. Many retailers such as WHSmith, Paperchase and TK Maxx are host to many beautiful journals. However, if you need something with more structure, you might turn to Fearne Cotton’s Happy: The Journal or the widely acclaimed Gratitude Journal: 100 Days of Gratitude Will Change Your Life by psychotherapist and clinical hypnotherapist Natalie Fox.

Feeling grateful and looking for the positives in life will change your mindset, which can be a blessing in difficult and stressful times. I am grateful for my self-control and refraining from eating a loaf of bread everyday (I may have to get some toast now…)