I thought gratitude journaling was BS until I considered this idea

Image Courtesy of Negative Space on Pexels

Life is an endless series of trainwrecks with only brief, commercial-like breaks of happiness

-Deadpool

If you’re like me, you immediately become skeptical when you hear about gratitude and journaling.

The connotation of these practices, especially together, is not exactly rooted in a grounded existence. This kind of fluffy advice falls on the deaf ears of more pragmatic, realistic human beings.

For me, this practice was first introduced by my mother.

I was a young perfectionist (some things never change). After middle-school sports games, especially those where I sat on the bench the majority of the game, I came home and sulked. I acted as if my life was over.

During one especially difficult period, my Mother instructed me... How about you write down three things everyday that you did well?

*eye roll*

It sounded horrible. First of all, as a normal, functioning teenager, I was Teflon to motherly advice. Second of all, it sounded like something a jobless tree-hugger would say to do. I wasn’t ready for that kind of wisdom at that point in my life.

But I tried it. At the end of each day, I wrote down three things that did well/was grateful for. The most significant part of this practice is that it required thought. I didn’t have 3 things I was grateful for loaded in the chamber at all times; I had to dig them up. This is the important part about this practice.

Our brains gravitate towards negativity. At the end of the day, we remember the bad conversation we had with our coworker instead of the good one. I once heard this phenomenon described as our brains being teflon for the good and velcro for the bad.

This is a survival mechanism. Remembering social threats helped keep us alive, while remembering good things did nothing for us. This is the physiological reason that many people hate losing more than they love winning. Because physically, losing feels worse than winning feels good.

Gratitude journaling helps to balance out the scales. It forces you to remember some good things to remind you that things aren’t so bad. It resists our nature in order to to bring us a more objective look at our lives. It is the advice that our friends give us to boost our mood when we are down.

Writing down what you did well, what you accomplished, or what you are grateful for is therapeutic. Journaling can require being in-touch with your emotions, which can be difficult for some. Doing so can bring just a bit of peace to your life. Worst case, you have a time capsule you can dust off in a few years’ time with which you can examine your younger self and chuckle at your previous thinking.

You don’t have to change your life mantra to hakuna matata to journal some positivity every once in a while. You don’t have to advertise it and you can keep it completely to yourself. Any effects you get from journaling are entirely yours. That’s the point.

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Nathan Adlam

English teacher, engineer, expat… writing about things I am passionate about. Author of Avocado Toast and Other Millennial Insights.