Part One: Just Beginning Can Be the Hardest Part

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Part One

Just Beginning Can Be the Hardest Part

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Purpose

Research

Methods

 

Purpose

If you’re reading this, it is safe to say that you're interested in daily gratitude journals, and maybe even starting one of your own. Is it safe to say that?

There is quite a lot of talk around gratitude and the benefits it can add to our daily life. Gratitude helps to put situations into perspective. It also helps us to feel happy habitually and to realize how much we already have.

In today’s world, it can be easy to lose sight of the little things:

  • Ever-evolving scientific findings,

  • Fast paced communication, and

  • Even more rapid technology.

And the little things can make a huge difference, especially when they’re consistent. Remembering to practice gratitude in our everyday life can help to keep us grounded. That way we can still see all those little things that can be so easy to miss.

People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems.
— happify.com

Gratitude journals are a perfect way to do just that. At least, that’s what all my research has said. But here’s the thing: I have a confession to make.

I haven’t kept a gratitude journal before. I haven’t even regularly practiced gratitude before. I will admit, though, that this is not my first attempt at a daily gratitude journal. I have started gratitude journals in the past, but none of them have been quite what I was expecting them to be. Even worse, none of them have continued on past the initial phase of novelty and excitement.

For November, I decided to try again. I want to see and experience what all the fuss is surrounding gratitude and gratitude journals. If it all ends up as hype, at least I gained some regularity, commitment skills, and consistency in my life.

But, what if it ends up being truth?

  • What if only a fraction of it ends up to be true?

  • What if I am happier more consistently?

  • What if I feel more peaceful more frequently?

I can say with certainty I would be grateful for these experiences. I’ve also wanted to start a bullet journal for, and this is a perfect opportunity to dovetail that desire into my daily life. And to learn how to do it, too!

So, to prepare for this November blog, I decided to start my journal in October. That would give me plenty of time to do the research I needed on gratitude. I could test what can begin to happen when we practice it every day. I could research on how to start the journal itself, which can be exactly as complicated as you want to make it.

Starting a daily gratitude journal can be very simple, but it can also be very complicated. This is the why I wanted to start early: to provide a little feedback on what worked for me. And to give different avenues that might work best for you.

There are two main goals of this journal:

  • Have fun, and

  • Learn new ways to make the pages talk for me, to express what I just can’t seem to say in words.

Beginning this journal was arduous. I felt as if every page had to be perfect. Every line had to be straight. Every curve had to be beautiful and breathtaking. Now, I am merely having fun learning and practicing new skills that will someday be an easily accessible tool in my belt of self-expression. I am doing things I’ve never done before and thought I would never do because I felt I could not do them. Writing in this journal, I can feel my confidence rising.

My vision for this journal is more than jotting down what I am grateful for every day. By itself, that is a HUGE task and accomplishment. I see this journal as a physical space for self-expression, learning, and growth. When I look at this journal, I can see how far I’ve come, both in attitude and in self-confidence; in artistic ability and in creativity.

This journal is a timeline of my journey into artistry, a road I’ve always wanted to take, but have always been too afraid to traverse. And my way of looking at it, at defining it, is precisely why I was so scared to take that road.

To traverse something means to cross it. To start wherever we are and end at either success or failure. To arrive at the destination, or to fail to reach it. To become lost on the way and look forward with disenchantment, and look back in agony at all the wasted time and energy.

But now, I see that this road isn’t a path from point A to point B, with a definite origin and end. I regard this road as one turn in a never-ending journey to self-expression; a route with no wrong turns, no dead ends, and no failures. It is a long adventure, filled with lessons and lined with opportunities and choices, but with no need for fear and no wasted effort.

Speaking of effort, if you haven’t read The Dream-Giver, by Bruce Wilkinson, I highly recommend it.

I keep and have kept many journals in my life. But they never quite felt like they were reaching the potential they could. As time has gone on, my journals have become more daring and more interactive: more creative and raw.

But they still aren’t exactly what I see when I look inside my heart. These journals don’t quite grasp the vision that is held there--the truth of my being; what I really want to convey. This journal is an active undertaking to continue reaching for that message. Without anxiety. Without intimidation. Without bindings.

I refuse to be petrified, ruminating on the possibility of defeat any longer. As Bob Ross has so lovingly put it, “there are no mistakes, just happy little accidents.” Happy little accidents that lead to so many new opportunities we’ve never seen and could have never even imagined, before.

So the first few pages of this journal aren’t exactly as I would like them to be, and they plainly aren’t perfect. They’re filled with happy little accidents that I had to work with and adjust to.

But as time passes and the pages turn, and more practice I put into a technique, I can see the journal developing. And with the development of the methods and the pages, I can see myself growing.

I will talk more about my own progress in the following pages, and I’ll continue to keep track of my progress in this series every week. For now, I’m going to share some of my research and what inspired me to start a gratitude journal in the first place.

Research

According to Robert Emmons, a scientific expert on gratitude, in his Greater Good Essay, “Why Gratitude is Good,” gratitude has two components.

  • First, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”

  • Second, when we practice gratitude “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. … We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

Dr. Emmons calls gratitude a “relationship-strengthening emotion, because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.” When practicing gratitude, we see the support of others, and we want to reciprocate with that support. This leads us to both cherish and repay with gifts those given to us. In other words, it encourages us to pay back to those who have given to us, as well as forward to others. The benefits of this practice are far-reaching and can be extremely powerful in our lives.

According to happierhuman.com:

[Gratitude] makes us happier, makes people like us, makes us healthier, boosts our career, strengthens our emotions, develops our personality, makes us more optimistic, reduces materialism, increases spiritualism, makes us less self-centered, increases self-esteem, improves sleep, lets you live longer, increase[s] energy levels, makes you more likely to exercise, helps us bounce back, makes us feel good, makes our memories happier, reduces feelings of envy, helps us relax, makes you friendlier, helps your marriage, makes you look good, helps you make friends [and even] deepens friendships, makes you a more effective manager, helps you network, increases your goal achievement, improves your decision making, [and] increases your productivity.
— happierhuman.com
[Gratitude] increas[es] happiness and life satisfaction...[boosting] feelings of optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions...gratitude also reduces anxiety and depression and could be a helpful part of therapy….Gratitude is good for our bodies…[helps] people sleep better...Gratitude makes us more resilient...strengthens relationships...makes us feel closer and more committed to friends and romantic partners….promotes forgiveness...makes us “pay it forward” [making us] more helpful, altruistic, and compassionate… Gratitude is good for kids… [and] for schools.
— Greater Good, UC Berkeley

Practicing gratitude can benefit many spheres of our lives, and there are many ways to practice it. But, for the time being, I will only be beginning a gratitude journal. So, I will be logging how effective my gratitude journaling is. I'll record any benefits, and the different effects I notice in my everyday life.

According to happify.com, “gratitude journaling works because it slowly changes the way we perceive situations by adjusting what we focus on.”

But, happify.com gives some advice to make our journaling more powerful: get more specific. It is favorable to note how grateful we are for our friends or family, or for the great day we had. But getting more specific can help us to expand our gratitude and look for new ways we can be grateful in our everyday lives.

As happify.com puts it, “while [we] might always be thankful for [our] great family, just writing 'I’m grateful for my family' week after week doesn’t keep [our] brain[s] on alert for new grateful moments. Get specific by writing 'Today my husband gave me a shoulder rub when he knew I was really stressed' or 'My sister invited me over for dinner, so I didn't have to cook after a long day.’”

This practice will help us notice new things we can be grateful for all the time. It will also help us to see more than what is directly in front of our eyes, which can “deeply enhance [our] gratitude practice.”

I know that my own tendencies are to be more general when writing down my gratitude notes, so becoming more specific will be a bit of a challenge for me. I am expecting my gratitude journaling to change my life for the better so it will be worth the trial.

To learn more, start with the resources below:

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/gratitude/definition#why-practice

https://www.unstuck.com/gratitude/

https://www.happify.com/hd/the-science-behind-gratitude/

https://www.happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/

Methods

Step One: Gather Supplies

First, you’ll have to gather some supplies. I chose an Artist’s Loft Bullet Journal and three Tombow pens, all which I got from Michaels.

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This is what the inside of the journal looks like. Personally, I really like bullet journals because they make organizing page layouts so simple. They are perfect for drawing straight lines and for doodling. I tend to have a hard time drawing symmetrically, and I really like having an idea of where the center of the page is. Bullet journals are so useful for all these. But, if you would prefer to use another type of journal or already prefer a particular style of organizer, feel free to use it.

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As Bob Ross famously says, “When you buy your first tube of paint you get a license. And it says you can do whatever you want to be happy.” This is your space, and you have the freedom to do whatever you would like with it. Going forward, I am going to tell you how I have set my journal up and how to do the same process I have done. But, always remember that you are free to do your journal in any way that pleases and inspires you.


Step 2: Set Aside Space for Table of Contents and Cover Page

Next, you’ll want to leave about 4 pages for a table of contents. The Artist’s Loft journals already have this. But, if you chose to get something different I recommend to keep these pages blank for logging things in the future. I used the next page as an introduction to the journal, centering the text and using some washi tape that I also got from Michaels for decoration.

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Step 3: Add the Yearly Log

After the cover page, use 1-2 pages for a yearly log to keep track of the year ahead of you. I started my log with October because I wanted to start on the journal right away, but start with whatever month makes sense to you. I also used two pages rather than one because I like to have the extra space. You can condense the yearly log onto one page if that seems like a better fit for you. I noticed on this page that the pens I had were too thick to add the dates inside such small boxes, so I began using a Micron Pigma 005 .20mm line black pen for this.

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Also, I made a few mistakes on this page, and you can tell I wasn’t quite sure how I would lay it out when I started. I accidentally moved the month alignment to the center in the second column. To be completely honest, I didn’t like having the month aligned to the left.

But this opened up a new idea to me that I didn’t have to have a constant and stagnant design. I ended up loving how the alignment alternated and allowed me to see what it looks like to have the names in each spot.

Also, the size of the dates changed a lot within the first row before I settled into a groove of how I wanted it to look. Overall, it wasn’t a huge deal to me and, as I kept going, I enjoyed making the decisions of what I would do next because the design didn’t go exactly as I had planned. In the end, I felt like I had done something I would never have done with a set plan and I relished the feeling of freedom and creativity this offered to me. Plus, I like being able to look back and see this. It gives me a physical marker of the progress I’m making in skill, creativity, and confidence.

I will say that I liked the way the header came out, though. I did some practice beforehand and decided how I would want it to look, and it came out pretty much exactly as I wanted it to.


Step 4: Create Your Month Log

After finishing the year log, I used the next two pages as a month log. This way, I could see the whole month in a larger space and keep track of the days as they went by. Plus, if an event were coming up, I would have a place where I could jot it down if I needed to.

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I didn’t want to do this on the daily pages (coming up next) because I wanted to devote that space entirely to gratitude entries. But you can lay your journal out in whatever way feels right and useful to you. On this page, I began using some brush pens I bought online from Arteza.

I appreciated the way most of the letters of “October” came out, but there were a few with which I wasn’t 100% satisfied. I am excited to see how my skill with these pens develops over time, though.


Step 5: Begin Daily Gratitude Log

After this, I started with the daily gratitude log. I also drew in a photo to set up the mood of the month, but this is up to you. I decided I wanted to split the week onto the front and back side of one page, rather than to put them side by side. But, I tried to use one page to draw on before starting the daily log, and that desire drove this decision.

One of the reasons I love bullet journals is because it makes drawing so much easier for me. To be honest, I have no talent for drawing straight lines or symmetry of any kind. So having a page that is only graph paper without the actual lines helps me a ton!

The different boxes make it so easy to measure. The dots help to create perfectly straight or diagonal lines. And they even help to find the exact center or midlines of a page without having to measure anything. Also, the leftover “dots” are so light compared to anything I put on the page, so they don’t bother me at all. I absolutely love it.

This is what an entire week looks like in my journal: with Monday - Thursday on the front page and Friday - Sunday on the back. I started my weeks on Monday rather than Sunday because I work during the week and volunteer on the weekends. So, it felt better to keep the weekend days together rather than on two separate pages. Again, arrange your journal in whatever way is most pleasing and most practical to you.

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Also, I used the brush pens I have to write the days of the week, but it made it tiring to make them look neat. I like the Tombow pens I bought because, even though they are also brush pens, they have felt tips rather than actual brushes. These precision tips make it much easier to control what the letters will look like for me. Admittedly, I am starting with brush lettering so, with more practice, it may become more comfortable to use actual brush pens with brush tips.

This is what my journal looks like for October. I’m not sure if I’ll keep it the same for November or if I’ll change a few things as I lay it out. I plan to update this page either weekly or monthly as the journal continues to grow and evolve. I’ll be adding my November layout on here very soon. So, if you like this project and want to begin your own gratitude journey with me, come back and check out my progress and leave me any comments/questions you might have. As I go, I will also be adding my difficulties and any new ideas I’ve had or skills I’ve learned for journaling.