When I started jotting down a weekly gratitude list of 5 things, I noticed my outlook immediately changed. Yep, it’s that empowering.
Writing down is so powerful because you can go through the process of deliberately thinking through and recalling recent memories. But you knew that.
And you also knew to wisely read what you wrote, to reinforce and record those thoughts in your brain. Otherwise, the thought may just pass through without acknowledgment.
(The same reason why self-awareness doesn’t always happen — there’s no meditating on or making deeper thought connections).
I found that limiting the list to 5 gratitude things worked well because you become more selective, picking out the very best from the week. You don’t ramble, such as when you have a cluttered mind and want to get emotions off your chest. That defeats the purpose of what I found this exercise achieved.
You only need a few good things to meditate on or think on to make you feel better instantly (producing a positive outlook).
There are weeks where you may struggle with coming up with a 5th item, but if you search your brain long enough, that last item will come. You push through past your negative thoughts, even during rough weeks, which helps build your positive thought muscles.
You can always fall back on an item that pleased one of your 5 senses that was unique to the week. The idea is to find unique items to spark your senses, like a letter or gift you received.
For the first few weeks, you may need to think more intently, as you’re not used to the weekly habit of writing down your 5 things. I suggest writing on the same day each week.
Our society tends to have us thinking Monday through Thursday/Friday as workdays. I chose Friday as my list day, but a weekend day would be just as good if you don’t get distracted and can get consistent free time.
I found that journal writing to myself with pen and paper worked well as the exercise became a very personal, introspective part of my week.
My Gratitude Journal Experiment
I committed to doing this mental exercise weekly in a 2015 experiment. After 10 weeks, I found that I developed a new sense of appreciation for my surroundings. I developed contentment and compassion for others.
Even when nothing earth-shattering happened in the week or the 10 weeks total, I was happier each day, even when I could have taken self-pity for not enough excitement happening.
Your mental health can improve…
When you focus on daily, positive minute details, you see more than your overall life. This helps you when not much exciting is going on in any season.
I started to visualize and be mindful that what I have is more than some people have. I stopped taking for granted a special meal or having a job despite undesirable situations or tasks I didn’t enjoy.
In my journaling moments, I started paying more attention to the outside world and not just focusing on what my life was becoming.
My Weekly Gratitude List Discoveries
In the beginning, my list started with items such as getting a breakthrough, meeting goals, attending social events, and creating new meals.
Then after several weeks of recording 5 unique things, my list became filled with simpler joys on smaller items that most people would take for granted. And I would too if I didn’t do this exercise.
I also found that writing down unique joys specific to the week, even if they were small, gave me a new sense of excitement, over repeated weekly joys like having my favorite cup of coffee or meeting my weekly goals.
I recorded outside-of-me joys such as a stranger who randomly smiled at me. Or I witnessed a red robin sitting outside my window. Things I could easily miss if I wasn’t fully present or paying attention.
There are 3 reasons I think this exercise is powerful in creating a positively changed outlook in appreciation, contentment, and empathy/compassion.
Powerful Reason # 1:
When you recall and write gratitude memories down, at the moment, you magnify them in your mind and you make the connection that you have more to be grateful for.
When you appreciate more, your outlook improves. You no longer focus on the negative of what you don’t have as much. This effect can wear off, but if you are doing this weekly, you are constantly reminded and renewing with new gratitude memories.
Powerful Reason #2:
After several weeks, I found I was pleasantly forced to stay focused on small joys, replacing unfulfilled wants that are illusions.
I started writing things that happened to me, where I’m the observer or receiver, and building contentment in the moment. This contentment consumed more space in my mind than before the experiment.
You may have a setback or trial in your life, but when you catch a break from those worry thoughts constantly running as a background theme in your mind, you’re free from anxiety and can zero in and observe your surroundings.
You also start seeing how much you have, through all the small things that make up your day and life. A cup of coffee with a little foam can spark joy.
You can eventually realize as I did in my gratitude experiment, that these simple joys are more than what others have in their lives, developing a mindful sense of gratitude, contentment, and compassion.
Powerful Reason #3:
As more weeks went by, I noticed my subconscious mind was searching to make simple, happy things occur as I had trained my brain on my weekly habitual gratitude writing exercise.
You and your brain can start looking forward to recording down items in your journal at the end of the week. That actually can be one of the highlights of your week.
As you have appreciation, contentment, and compassion growing in you, then you can naturally think about how you can make small things happen that help others immediately, with no rejection or delay.
You can pay for the fast-food drive-thru car behind you or donate time or money to a good cause. Then, recall and record that in your weekly gratitude journal. And then experience how that makes you feel, and decide or consider if you want to keep doing that activity.
You helped a cause, person, or family. You also helped yourself to figure out another aspect about yourself regarding what works in your life and maybe another way you can be useful to the world.
If you made it this far, you probably understand better (or are reminded) how a simple 5–15 minutes a week of sitting down and being mindful about your week, can change your outlook this season.
…Or even better, try out a gratitude list for the next few weeks and see how it feels.
If you’re distraught over a loss, going through difficulties, feeling listless, or wanting to bring about change in your life, this is a baby-step way to get yourself on a new path. You can always start #1 on your list with “I am not alone.”
If you like these types of modern wisdom, visit my blog healthyhappylifesecrets.com to get more practical advice and live out your best life this season.
Previously Published on medium
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