The gist of it is to spend five minutes every day thinking about things we are grateful for and taking a few moments to write those things down. This way, we acknowledge the small things that add to our life, focusing on the good instead of the bad.
This was two years ago, long before knitting, just after a guy I had been dating dropped me — unexpectedly — and I was left with a bunch of unsorted feelings and a broken heart. I didn’t take the news well. I cried. I felt angry. I wanted to get in my car and do things folk on Westeros and wives on Bravo are famed to do. But being a man of a certain age, I decided to stay home and mope. And mope I did. To the point where family and friends started to worry and urged me to do something — anything — to get myself out of my funk.
That’s when a friend introduced me to the Five Minute Journal. The small, hardcover book is a space to spend five minutes every day recording positive thoughts and actions that occur during the day. This way I remind myself that happiness is something I shouldn’t pursue, but rather something I do. The journal is made up of pages with prompts to be answered day to day. Over the course of weeks and months, the practice of noticing small blessings and occurrences lead to a realization that, even when life seems to be at its lowest, there’s always something to be grateful for.
The Journal is based on the pop-modern “psychology of happiness.” This is the slice of modern psych that has yielded a number of bestselling books telling us that we’re not really happy until we follow the guidelines outlined in the books. Buy them. Read them. And you’ll be happy. Each book has its own different take and strategy for feeling good, but one thing they all agree on is that having a sense and feeling of gratitude enhances the way we look at ourself, our life, and the world around us. This, in turn, rewires our brain to focus on the good instead of fixating on the bad. By taking note and preparing for the day ahead, and by noting the good parts of the day, the Journal chips away at the hard, angry feelings walling our heart, and slowly digs in to what is most often overlooked or taken for granted. It is in noticing and realizing what it is we take for granted that happiness lives.
At my friend’s suggestion, I took on the dare of working on the Five Minute Journal every day for a week. If I failed to write in the journal during that week, I swore to donate $100 to our Fake-Prez’s 2020 campaign. The dare was enough to get me moving, and every day I wrote in the book felt like a vote against him.
It’s now well over a year since that initial week, and I’ve completed two journals. After the first week, and long after the dare, the practice continues, and I now note things that add to my life and make me happy. I have also shuffled things around and adapted the prompts to make them more meaningful to me. So instead of purchasing another book to work with, I decided to create my own version of the journal — I uploaded a PDF file for anyone who wants to download, make copies, and keep a journal for themselves. My version follows in the spirit of the original.
For the morning part of the journal, after noting the day’s date at the top of the page, there are a few lines to write an affirmation for the day. Here I write one of a number of affirmations I’m currently working with. The affirmation I choose sets the tone for the day, and it’s a reminder for me, early in the morning while I drink my coffee, of what I hope my intention for the day to be.
An affirmation is a statement written in clear, positive terms that declares my goal as if it already happened. Affirmations that emphasize a want or lack for something usually don’t work. Affirmations should be worded in active form, using words that indicate the affirmation has already happened. That way I signal my brain to go in the direction of goal, seeking and drawing to me the people, situations, and coincidences that will help me get to where I want to go.
Following the affirmation are three goals I hope to accomplish during the day. Three things, and three things only; this way I don’t feel overwhelmed or like my day will be impossible. Checking off the three items means I had a good day. These can be simple things like grocery shopping or folding laundry; they can also be big things like writing a blog post or getting through the day without losing my temper. The goals are written so there’s a record of the day’s tasks, but I don’t berate myself if one, two, or all three are forgotten or remain undone (if they are, I move them to the following day, until they are done). The point of writing these goals is to take steps to accomplishing a short- or long-term goal in tandem with the affirmation written above. As the goals are completed, I am one step closer to accomplishing something I’d like for myself.
Finally, before heading out and starting the day, I record a quote or inspirational saying I catch on Instagram or the Internet from the myriad of meditation sites I follow. Each site publishes a number of wisdom quotes each day I like to record in my book. This way my sage’s wisdom library grows by a sentence each day — and I’m all the wiser. Whenever I need advice, hope, or inspiration, all I need to do is open the journal to a random page and there I find the encouragement I need.
The evening part of the journal begins by noting three amazing things that happened during the day. These can be as amazing as winning the lottery or getting through the day in one piece. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate and be grateful for finding a parking space at a parking lot that’s full; having time to read a book before bed; sitting in the backyard with Lucky dog; reading my favorite blogs; or having dinner with a friend at our favorite restaurant. Anything goes in this space. The trick is not to be fooled by the word “amazing.” That is the trick part of this prompt.
Amazing can be HUGE, or it can be small. I’ve learned that something amazing usually can be found right under my nose — and happiness usually lies in those small things. In summer it’s not unusual for me to think air-conditioning is amazing. A day at the beach ranks high on my list of amazing things on a humid South Florida day. Amazing can also be finding my favorite yarn on sale, figuring out a knitting pattern that felt daunting the day before, or not dropping a stitch and having to start my project all over again. You get the idea.
Finally, we get to the journal’s raison d’être: what am I grateful for today? Here is where I note those little moments, the people, the situations, or the miracles — big or small — that I am grateful for. A clean bed, sexy underwear, a long e-mail from a friend, my family, Lucky dog, my best friend, clean water, knitting…I can go on and on about things I’m grateful for. But that’s the point.
My friend said the universe likes to fill in gaps, so when we’re grateful (really grateful) for something, the universe goes, “Let’s get him more of that!” So instead of focusing on lack (which is what the universe will deliver if that is what we focus on), I now focus on the positive, the good, the simple good I have in my life right now. And if I’m grateful for something I lack, I’m grateful for the people I’ve let go because they were not kind to me, or they didn’t have my best interest at heart.
Writing this journal, day after day, has helped me realize that even when I’m having a bad or terrible day, there’s something to be grateful for. Sometimes those things can be a blanket to pull over my head at the end of a long day; a friend calling in to check in on me; or a pup wagging his tail letting me know it’s time for him to take me out for a walk. It never fails to amaze me how intuitive dog (pets) can be, so Lucky dog I’m forever grateful for. The point is, there’s always something good, no matter how mundane it may seem, to be happy and grateful for.
So, what are you grateful for today?