Setting out to establish a habit of being grateful may seem a daunting task, when one sees the words “Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude.” Unlike Malcolm Gladwell’s ten thousand hours for mastery, gratitude does not require ten thousand days of practice in order to become habitual or to feel the benefits in one’s life.
In a few days, the mood is increased and the attention begins to focus more on the positive. Over the course of time, one moves from a daily or weekly practice of reflective appreciation into “grateful living.”
Just as in winning the London marathon, one doesn’t suddenly decide to accomplish the goal, buy a pair of trainers and run 26 miles in record time. One builds up with gradual practice and training. The gratitude journal is the basic building block of training for grateful living.
The Gratitude Journal
The Basic Process:
The practice is simple.
Taking some time to reflect on what is good in one’s life and writing this in a journal is what is known as keeping a gratitude journal. One can keep the journal daily or weekly or at some frequency in between. One’s journal should be kept at least weekly and should contain at least 3 items for which one is grateful in each entry.
In order to reap the maximum benefits, keep the journal in a deeply reflective way: take the time and space required to deeply feel a sense of appreciation for those things, people and moments that fill the journal.
Relaxed Presence and Attention:
To help make the gratitude journal a deeply reflective practice, begin each session by becoming present, attentive and relaxed. It can be helpful to spend a few minutes to let go of the stresses, worries and strains of the day. By taking this time, one becomes more emotionally and intellectually present and focus and attention is improved.
Begin by getting quiet. Sit with the back straight (but not straining), with feet on the floor or on a pillow, if the feet do not comfortably touch the floor.
With the eyes closed, bring the focus to the breath. Without interrupting or changing the normal breathing pattern, simply witness the pattern. Observe the air flowing in and out of the nose, chest, and belly. If thoughts or emotions arise, notice that they have arisen, and without judgement, simply return the attention to the breath.
Do this for at least 2 minutes before commencing the journaling session. Feel free to do those for as long as it takes to become alert and present.
Building the Habit
Goals are easier to achieve if our goals are specific, measurable, realistic, achievable and time bound.
- Specific: Be as specific as possible about why the people or things or moments are meaningful and be as specific as possible on what it is that is appreciated. Being grateful for the way one’s partner listens, without interrupting or problem solving is more meaningful than being grateful for one’s partner or even the fact that one’s partner is good at listening.
- Measurement: Efforts can be measured in terms of days of practice against the targeted number of days, or, perhaps more meaningfully, theough a weekly or fortnightly mood check-in at the start of the session.
- Achievable: There will be good days and bad days. Some days it will be very difficult to think of three things for which to be grateful. Do the practice, anyway. Use the aid of some prompts to help activate the gratitude response. An example can be found in our article “20 Things for Which to be Grateful”
- Realistic: Be realistic about the time the journal will take and about the other demands on one’s time. If days are chaotic, perhaps it is wise to begin the day with the journal. If one morning gets missed, there is the entire day and evening in which to carve out time and catch up that day’s entry. And, if all else has failed that day, it is possible to complete the journal as a last task before sleeping. If time is very scarce, consider journaling weekly rather than daily.
- Time Bound: Set aside a time each day during which to journal. Try to make this a regular time every day or each week. At the start of the journey, set a goal of 21 days if journaling on a daily basis and 10 weeks if doing it weekly. Extend this time as you wish, but begin with a short, time bound period to help maintain motivation.
Positive psychologists argue that each of person has an emotional set point which makes it easier for some individuals to be grateful. Fortunately, practicing gratitude or giving thanks need not be predicated on feeling grateful, although studies indicate that gratitude practice does lead to positive emotions.
In a series of studies, Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis and Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami found that the keeping of a weekly gratitude journal led to a decrease in symptoms of physical illness, an increase in life satisfaction and an increase in optimism. Those who kept a gratitude journal on a daily basis were more likely to help someone else. Those who regularly practice gratitude report better sleep patterns, suffer less stress related diseases and are more interconnected in their communities. School children who practiced gratitude for several weeks had noticeable learning improvement, long after the experiment ended.
Achieving the Goal
As in much of life, the point of this practice is not to achieve the goal, but to alter the manner in which one sees the world. Along the way, one also gains the benefits of the process. Moving from a goal orientation to making gratitude a habit will take considerably longer than 21 days. However, considering the benefits experienced, it seems strange to even consider returning to an attitude of entitlement, of taking life for granted and of disconnection from community.
There is no need to make a Ten Thousand Day commitment.
Simply continue to take time to notice the wonder of life and to be grateful.