I treated myself for the New Year: I found gratitude.
Always drawn to January’s promise of reinvention, I find it tough to avoid consumerism in the last weeks of December. Not because of Christmas, but because I want shiny new things for a shiny new year. I’m most drawn by calendars and journals, empty pages waiting to be filled with changes, improvements, ways to feel in control.
This year, in an effort to stick with material and financial minimalism, I took a more intentional approach. I saved a Barnes and Noble gift card for several months, planning to use it on anything I truly wanted in the days immediately following Christmas.
I only had $10 to spend, so whatever I bought couldn’t be big. In fact, it would probably be disposable or giveable once I finished with it. Most importantly, shopping intentionally allowed me to enjoy my purchase guilt free.
While browsing the store for an hour or so, I found myself coming back several times to a small, deep-blue journal dotted with gold spots to look like stars. It was a 5-year, 1-line-a-day journal, an idea that’s always intrigued me because it seems like something I’d actually stick to.
(For those not familiar, this type of journal has room for a sentence about your day, and each page has space for you to repeat the process each of the next several years. Over time, when you write one day’s entry, you can quickly reflect on what you noted the same date in previous years.)
Finally, after wrestling over whether I’d been intentional enough in my choice, I bought it.
Turning Goals into Gratitude
I spent the last bleak December days savoring the anticipation of cracking my journal open come January 1, dreaming of all the ways I could fill it to create a new me.
Facing the usual longing to get fit, get organized, etc., I fought the urge to set lofty, unreasonable goals. Instead, I thought about general directions I’d like to travel. I considered what small steps might move me forward on those paths.
After pondering several options, I decided I’d use this simple journaling technique to log those small steps.
The book’s lines allowed enough room for 5 or 6 short phrases. I decided to cover 4 target areas each day: Gratitude, Mindfulness, Health, and Memories. I would jot down a brief record of something I did each day in each of these areas.
It only took one week to notice a huge impact in my daily life. Surprisingly, I found all of my goals shifting toward service of one: gratitude.
Several things happened quickly. I found:
I was aware of my goals but not pressured by them.
Because I could only write a phrase, this method forced me to take small steps each day. There’s simply no room to get obsessed and overdo it. “Health,” for example, might be something as simple as choosing water over Coke today. “Mindfulness” might mean taking a minute to savor small things, like a framed print in my dining room.
By the end of each day, I found I’d been more conscious of my general goals, taking small, painless steps in the right direction.
I became more reflective all day.
Knowing I’d be condensing the day into a few key phrases made me look for the highlights all day. Was breakfast the best part? (Surely you can’t beat that sausage biscuit.) Yet by afternoon, something else always comes along to knock breakfast back a peg or two. By evening, something else might top that.
Planning to summarize the highlights at the end of the day actually put a positive spin on the whole day. It also made me much more aware of little happy moments, because I had to take real notice of them if I hoped to pick a favorite.
I learned I have more to be grateful for than I can list.
By day 7, I was struggling to summarize the high spots, because there were too many good things to list. This is definitely the best and most surprising lesson. I know people who swear by the benefits of gratitude journaling, but I had no idea how transformative it could be.
To end my day unsure how to choose the best of all the good moments is, frankly, incredible.
With this simple method, you quickly realize how very much good there is, even in the mundane.
Gratitude Takes Over
Although only one section of my journal covers gratitude, the very act of journaling my small steps along several “right” paths makes me appreciate all my New Year goals more fully.
Instead of burdens, they become opportunities for self-reflection and satisfaction.
I thought gratitude would be a distinct topic, but turns out, this one area actually shines a light on all the rest, coloring them in new, exciting ways.
Now that we’re nearing the end of the month, I think one-line journaling might be a resolution that actually sticks. It’s simple, rewarding, and focuses my attention on the happiness to be found in the here and now.
Isn’t that what mindfulness is all about?