In the spirit of Thanksgiving and Christmas, I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude. If you’ve spent three seconds on the internet in the past few weeks, gratitude posts are everywhere. The titles look like this: Why you should keep a gratitude journal. Why you should be thankful. How to make yourself feel thankful even if you don’t really want to be thankful right this second. How staying grateful makes you live longer. It’s all over.
While all of this might seem a little overwhelming (and frankly, contrived), if you’re new to the “formal” gratitude thing, I must tell you, friend—gratitude recognition WORKS. Take it from a girl who tends to be a little glass-half-empty and Eeyore-ish sometimes. I started keeping a gratitude journal a few years ago, and it completely changed my outlook on things. It’s a word elixer for mental and spiritual health.
What is a gratitude journal, you might ask? It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a spot to record what you’re thankful for. These might be things, like your house or your family. Or they can be outlooks, mindsets, or ideas. The deal is that you can be thankful, or grateful, for ANYTHING. No limits here.
The amazing thing is that once you get rolling with the things you’re grateful for, more and more things usually spring to mind. If I begin journaling by being thankful for my family, then more folks come to mind for whom I am thankful. If I feel grateful for my home, then I usually think of more physical things around me that are wonderful (good coffee made this list this week). If you can just pop the cork on your gratitude, more grateful thoughts just naturally flow out.
The Mud Hut
The reasons I began keeping a gratitude journal in the first place are many. This type of journaling keeps my focus positive. I am forced to recognize the things in my life that are going pretty darn well, instead of focusing on the things that are not. It’s a wonderful way to start the day (more on my journaling specs later). It turns my focus outward towards my family and friends, rather than inward towards myself. These are all areas I need to work on in my life.
But the biggest kick-start to my gratitude journaling came when I read a story online. Now, I cannot remember where exactly I read this account. I would certainly cite it and give proper credit if I could remember, but it was years ago and my brain has been fried by my children. I do recall it was on a website for an organization designed to sponsor children in need. If you happen to know this story and where it came from, please let me know, and I will give it its dues for sure.
The story was about a family that traveled to Africa to meet the child they had been sponsoring for years. They had sent him monetary support, exchanged letters and photos, etc. But they were going on a mission trip to his village, and they were actually meeting him face to face.
When they arrived in his village and got to meet him, of course everyone was overjoyed. There were lots of hugs and tears and the emotions you would expect. But the kicker of this story was when this boy took this family to show them his house. He led them through his village and into the jungle (if I recall correctly) until they came upon his dwelling. According to the account, the boy was beaming. SO. PROUD. This was his house!!! He was welcoming these strangers, his faraway family, into his home, and he was just tickled pink about the entire thing. And guess what?
His house was a mud hut.
Dirt floor. Grass roof. No real walls. No real rooms. The whole family lived in one room and they slept on the floor. You can picture it, can’t you? I can. I still can. And this boy was so PROUD of his home. It was his and his family’s and he’d worked so hard for this home. He couldn’t wait to show it off.
Dears, I don’t know about you, but this story was a reality kick in the pants. This boy in this village was so JAZZED to share his mud hut with the family who came to meet him. Was he at all ashamed of it? Um, NO. Because there was nothing to be ashamed of. He worked hard, this abode was his, and he was proud of what he’d done. What he’d made. My guess is he wasn’t busy comparing it to other huts in his village, and certainly not to this visiting family’s home. He was busy being proud. Not in a boastful way, but in an I-take-pride-in-my-work way.
I try to think of this story whenever I am feeling less-than. I even had a co-worker that would say, “Mud hut!” to me whenever I was feeling frustrated with what I had, and I would say the same to her. It’s a really quick, easy way to remind yourself to be grateful. Grateful for what you have and who you have. Grateful for your little life.
So the story of the mud hut led me to gratitude journaling. If this boy could be grateful for his home, then I could certainly be grateful for what I had. I am crazy-blessed and I know it. I started recording it, and haven’t looked back since. It’s been a game-changer for me for sure.
Very Basic How-To
I encourage you to try a gratitude journal yourself! I simply keep a document on my computer that I add to, but I’ve also kept paper journals in the past. I aim for five things I am grateful for each morning. I like doing this journaling in the morning, because it shifts my mindset to positive rather than negative. Of course, the format of a gratitude journal is completely dependent on the user, so you do you here. Photo journal? Collage? Go for it!!! You can’t do this wrong, I promise. I am sure you will find that once you get started, the things you are grateful for multiply right before your eyes. Enjoy!!!
Side note: The things you are grateful for don’t have to be BIG things. Example: At the school where I teach, we were without toilets for two days. I had to take 19 5-year-olds out to porta-potties in the rain and snow. So yesterday, I was thankful for indoor plumbing. It’s the little things that make you smile, ya know? Happy journaling!