Journaling for a Brighter Life
Would you like a quick and easy way to brighten your life? It’s as simple as listing three specific highlights of your day before you go to bed. They might include uplifting moments, achievements, moments of connection or calm, ideas and insights. Enjoy falling asleep while thinking about the highlights of your day, rather than your problems.
When introduced to highlight journaling, I struggled to identify highlights in days dominated by pain and problems. Small highlights that momentarily lifted my spirits were easily forgotten—a smile, a sunny interval in a grey day, a delicious morsel. Over time, I started to notice and savour those highlights as they happened.
It only takes a few moments to list three highlights. You might want to capture the impact of significant ones by writing more about them—immediately, or later. Recording sensory details helps you to make the memory more vivid and easier to retrieve.
Your highlights journal can then become a delightful reminder of happy memories. It will reveal the little things that make a significant impact on your sense of wellbeing. It can record progress towards changing habits or reaching goals. Celebrating steps in the process regardless of whether you achieve your original goal.
Highlight journaling helps us to gain a more realistic perspective on our lives by drawing attention to what is going right. There is probably far more right with you and your life than wrong with you, but it doesn’t always feel that way because we have an innate negative bias. Being on the alert for problems and dangers may be effective for physical survival, but our wellbeing can be undermined by paying more attention to what’s wrong than what’s right in our lives. This bias is exacerbated by our more intense emotional response to distressing events than to uplifting ones. How often has a single unwelcome event seemed to ruin your entire day? At worst, a negative bias can fuel catastrophic thinking that everything in your life is going badly.
Which is stronger, your inner critic or your inner cheerleader?
Feeling thankful for the highlights of your day makes it easy to transition from highlight journaling to gratitude journaling. Perhaps it’s the word ‘gratitude’ that puts some people off the most evidence-based form of journaling. It is proven to boost self-evaluated happiness in just twelve weeks by listing three things you are grateful for each day.
I remember limping towards my home in 1995. An elderly lady, who was walking slowly in my direction, stopped and said, ‘Oh my dear, your hair is shining like gold in the sunshine. It’s a sight for sore old eyes. You’ve made my day.’ She didn’t notice the tears of pain, of frustration and of despair that were trickling down my cheeks. I’d come home from work early because I couldn’t cope with the chronic pain in my leg. I was frightened about my failure to cope at work. My life seemed to be falling apart.
The highlight of that lady’s day became the highlight of mine. To be told that my existence could brighten someone’s day rekindled hope that my life was worthwhile. Would I have remembered that moment if she’d simply said that my hair was shining like gold in the sunshine? Confirmation that we have succeeded in making a positive impact on someone will provide most of us with a warm glow and encourage us to continue.
How often do you revel in the impact someone’s words or actions made on you?
How often do you dutifully say the briefest thank you, however sincere?
To start gratitude journaling, simply list three specific things you are grateful for each day. You might choose to expand on one or all of them immediately or later.
I challenge you to make a long list of things—animate, inanimate, or abstract—that you are grateful for. Repetitions are okay—they can be revealing.
Lists of a hundred or more are great for revealing trends. Explore connections between one hundred things by identifying themes. What are you readily grateful for? What are you failing to appreciate?
Each item on your list can be a prompt for free expressive writing daily, weekly, or whenever you want to lift your spirits. The journaling sessions that I run each week, Julie’s Journaling, start with a gratitude prompt, and the Monday prompt on my website is always a gratitude prompt.
Gratitude journaling becomes easier with practice because it brings an appreciation that the list of things to be grateful for is infinite. Expressing gratitude for being alive—for your limbs, organs, muscles and joints, for your knowledge, skills, resilience, for your emotions, for your memories, hopes, and dreams, encourages you to take care of and nurture yourself. You might be grateful to no longer have someone, or something, in your life. Sometimes we can only feel grateful in hindsight, when we reflect on the value of what we have learnt from mistakes, loss, failure, and even trauma. My industrial injury and resultant chronic pain condition have taught me patience, provided confidence that the world is full of kind people, and led to me become a writer. Complete forgiveness of someone could be defined as being grateful to them for the experience.
Years of gratitude journaling have brought me more contentment and happiness, a sense of abundance, and an appreciation for everything I have and for all that happens. Sudden losses are easier because my first reaction is to appreciate having possessed the lost item or having the relationship while it lasted. It also makes it easier to let go.
Gratitude journaling could become one of the highlights of your day—it is fast, free, and fulfilling.
© 2020 Julie E Pratt
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Navigating a river of travelogues, whirlpools of free-writing journaling, and plunging into the ocean of fantasy short stories.