In today’s climate, especially as a college student, it is so easy to get caught up in negativity and stress. While attending classes, keeping up with clubs, maintaining a social life, going (or pretending to go) to the gym, government shutdowns, social media controversies, and gross weather, it can almost feel like positivity is a myth that we all talk about, but will never obtain. Some seek refuge in athletics, hobbies, or trying new things, like yoga. But what about those of us who are already far too overwhelmed by their current schedules to even consider whipping out a mat and finding a class to attend?
Recently Alexa Losey, a YouTuber I have been following for years, posted on her Instagram story about how writing in a gratitude journal has changed her life. Usually, I roll my eyes at a statement like that, but thinking I had nothing to lose, I dove into a blank journal and wrote down something I was thankful for: my family. I do not always remember to maintain contact with my family, as I’m too focused on all my other daily tasks, so taking this minimal amount of time to think about and appreciate them reminded me to connect with them more.
I’ve been writing in my gratitude journal for a few months now, and I already see differences in the way my day goes. It is most helpful when I remember to start my day with it; I feel more of an obligation to leave behind my dreary mornings in bed and face the day.
Hesitantly pulling the covers off myself and placing my feet on the cold floor, yes, I sometimes regret getting up, but as I journal I feel a sense of renewal. It reminds me that the world contains more than just dreaded essay drafting and loathsome laundry runs. Each day can contain whatever I put into it. Journaling has made me recognize that I live a fortunate life where I never have to worry about my next meal, finding a place to sleep, or if I have the support of my loved ones. Gratitude journaling allows me to embrace my blessings and feel lighter and happier. This activity serves as a therapeutic and creative outlet for me. Some days I do not know what to write, but by expressing positivity, I find that I can further explore my passions and release them onto the pages of my journal. So don’t worry, this practice might just cure your writer’s block.
The reach of the gratitude journal is far, even Oprah Winfrey has discussed her “ritual” of recording positive aspects of her life over the years. On her website, she says that she used to write down five things she felt grateful for each day, some as simple as, “eating a melon on a cold bench in the sun.” After becoming too busy and falling out of touch with her journaling tendencies, she looked back on these entries and realized she no longer found as much happiness in the little moments of life. Today, she is still busy (she’s Oprah!), but the difference comes with prioritizing gratitude. She’s now back to documenting events that make her smile or feel thankful each day, but this time electronically, so as not to forget what happens to her as she’s on the go. If Oprah has been doing it all these years, it’s definitely something worth trying.
In her self-help book, Wake Up to the Joy of You, Agapi Stassinopoulos writes about how easily people can fall into the trap of negativity. She notes that complaining about life not going our way “takes us away from our gratitude.” The result? “Entitlement, blaming, and demanding.” Whenever I think my life should be going differently, I get defensive, looking outwards for reasons why the world treats me unfairly or why others are seeking to harm me. Stassinopoulos understands this human response to adversity, but advises us to practice thankfulness instead. When she takes time aside to write down what she is thankful for, she says she finds herself smiling, and even becomes more attune to the practice, noting she’s “exercising and strengthening her gratitude muscle.” She adds that constantly thanking people like flight attendants, waitresses, baristas (even those who serve bad coffee), and theater ushers can weave this positive attitude throughout mundane daily activities. Making a point to spread joy to those who are also just trying to endure their days can have a significant impact on other people’s days. Just like hitting a baseball or running laps, the more you repeat the routine of gratitude, the better you will become at it.
Illustrations by: Scout Watkins