The first time someone suggested I keep a gratitude journal, I suggested they set their hair on fire. I was a little cranky at the time. I didn’t want to be grateful, I wanted to seethe and be angry. Once I got finished with anger, I wasn’t sure why I should be grateful. And that’s the point.
Being grateful and writing it down helps slow down all that galloping emotion. In the mood I was in, my approach was a “revenge of the gratitude journal.” I wanted to prove that idiot who suggested the gratitude journal that they were wrong. Hah! So I wrote down, “I have nothing to be grateful for.” So there. I looked at it for awhile and felt a little dumb. Except for the thing I was angry about, which had taken over my life, I had a roof over my head, clean clothes to wear, a caring spouse, enough food to eat. I knew that other people didn’t have all of that. But hey, I was still angry.
So I wrote down, “My cup of coffee was not total crap this morning.” That seemed about right. The next day, I wrote down, “My annoying cube neighbor has the flu.” Then I added, “Traffic was OK. I got to the client on time.” I found that having a few small things to be grateful for seemed to reduce my anger. Only because all that anger was exhausting me.
Over time, I began to notice the quality of items I was grateful for changed, almost as if I could predict a bad mood, a new project coming my way, and when I was in problem-solving mode. I began to dare to notice that I was good at some things and write them in the gratitude journal. I could see the big picture and the details to get there. I was a good problem solver. Being grateful for what you are good at and noticing it makes you better at it.
A gratitude journal sharpens your skills. The first time I suggested it to one of my coaching clients, he tactfully suggested I set my hair on fire. (Well, no, he was quite polite. But I could feel the shock wave over the phone. This was no girly-man.) But he kept up the gratitude journal. I promise my clients anonimity, so I can’t quote his entries, but they started simple and got quite complex. It was working for him, too.
Here’s what he wrote to me this morning:
“You can tell your tough-guy clients that when I got laid off, the journal had mentally prepared me to view it as a blessing and an opportunity rather than a death sentence.
It allowed me to think clearly and focus on what I really wanted to do. Kind of like boot camp mentally prepares a “green” soldier for his first combat mission.”
Thanks so much for letting me know. You and I discovered the same thing about gratitude–it’s not a new age emotion, it’s a business tool. Particularly if you own your own business.
—Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and a life coach who specializes in guiding people through transitions. She holds workshops on writing, corporate culture, and giving presentations. See her work at QuinnCreative.com