I believe gratitude and the thankful acknowledgment of what has gone well in our lives – in the face of obstacles, trials, and tests – can be an integral component of our satisfaction with life. Focusing on the negative is counterproductive and increasingly builds feelings of unhappiness and severe discontent with our lives. When hospitalized in the psychiatric unit, we had a class on gratitude. The discussion and workshop surrounded on the creation of a gratitude journal, one of the simplest and most fruitful ways to journal for both the experienced and those who struggle. The point was to shift our attention away from our debilitating illnesses and symptoms to a place of thankfulness for who we are as individuals, and for the things going well in our lives that work to sustain us and keep us going. I originally found it quite hard to find moments of gratitude in what I perceived to be an unrelenting, blatant accost on my life and emotional wellbeing, but once I began practicing this form of journaling, I realized how much positivity and good were in my life, a life I had once deemed to be dismal and irreparably damaged. For example, though I may have bipolar, I have gratitude for the support and love I receive from my medical providers, family, and friends.
Here is how it works: At the end of the day, choose at least five components of your day for which you are grateful and appreciative. They have to be specific. While you may be highly grateful for your cat or dog, choose something that has happened specifically today – such as, I am grateful for the happiness I received from playing with my dog in the park today. Start each entry with “I am grateful for/that…”). So surprising is the joy and sense of appreciation that arises from completing this journaling exercise.
Here is mine for today:
1. I am grateful for my ability to afford a glass of tea and a crepe at the local coffee shop today.
2. I am grateful that I was able to listen to the rain pattering on roof of our house.
3. I am grateful for my ability to sleep in this morning without having to worry about obligations or expectations to meet.
4. I am grateful that I was able to spend the afternoon enjoying a book I have so desperately been trying to finish.
5. I am grateful for my sister picking me up at the coffee shop on a whim, taking time out of her day and projects she had been working on to cater to my needs.
Focusing on gratitude has truly brought me from the depths into light. When I fall back into the darkness, it tosses me a rope and draws me out once again. In my August 2013 hospitalization, I was in a psychotic manic episode and focusing on not much more than self harm, death, and suicide. I eschewed myself from anything positive, as I saw myself not making it out this time and was ready to succumb to my illness. By chance of attending this workshop, my entire perspective changed. My illness and symptoms did not change, but my perspective did. By having a more positive outlook, I began to rewire neural pathways. Nurturing positivity did not heal the cut on my arm, nor the suicidal ideations and hallucinations, but it created a platform by which I could start to rebuild my life, brick by brick.
For a further resource and an expanded perspective on gratitude journals, try this link: