Guy Smarts I wrote down the best things that happened to me for 2 weeks. Here’s what I learned

I sat at my desk, my notebook open to the first blank page, and struggled to find things to be thankful for. 

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I wrote down the best things that happened to me for 2 weeks. Here’s what I learned play

I wrote down the best things that happened to me for 2 weeks. Here’s what I learned

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Turns out, putting pen to paper can seriously mold your outlook

John Oliver called 2016 “the worst f-----g year.” 

The Washington Post deemed it the “Worst Year In Washington.” 

Many have called it a dumpster fire. Even as early as July, Slate asked, “Is 2016 the worst year in history?”

When times get tough, it’s easy to forget what we’re grateful for. 

However, multiple studies—including one from earlier this year—suggest that daily expressions of gratitude can improve mental health and physical well-being. 

To test this theory, I kept a gratitude diary for two weeks. For about 15 minutes each night, I wrote down what I was thankful for, big and small, in a small spiral-bound journal. 

What I Learned From My Gratitude Journal

One of the first things I learned was mildly unsettling: I was very out of touch with the concept of gratitude. 

I sat at my desk, my notebook open to the first blank page, and struggled to find things to be thankful for. 

All the stressors I’d faced throughout the day kept their foothold in my mind—refusing to budge. 

I was conditioned to end one day by thinking of what I had to do for the next. Taking a step back to think about gratitude was a challenge.

I started with the big picture. What am I grateful for? My family. My friends. My health. 

Then I thought about the ways these things manifested in my day: an encouraging text message, a satisfying morning workout. This got the ball rolling. 

Soon, littler things made their way onto the page. I wrote about a random compliment I received from a stranger. A few days later I wrote about a discussion I had with a friend about our favorite authors. 

I probably wouldn’t remember these things now if I hadn’t kept track of them.  

In the following days, I made a point of creating positive interactions whenever the opportunity arose—a brief conversation with someone in line at the coffee shop, a quick phone call to a friend over lunch. 

Even though I wrote in my diary at night, I woke up each morning with the goal of creating positive experiences for myself and those around me, experiences that I would be grateful for later. 

I made more plans. Instead of spending a free afternoon napping on my couch, I opted to contact the people whose names turned up in my diary. I wanted to make sure I’d have plenty to write about before bed. 

The bedtime ritual of journaling served as a punctuation mark for my day. After the daily entry was completed, I didn’t do anything else. I set a time every night when I’d cease work, write my daily entry, and go to sleep. 

The Effects Of Keeping a Gratitude Journal

After a few days, I developed another new habit: I stopped bringing my smartphone to bed with me. 

No more scrolling through social media with my head on the pillow, no more checking e-mail immediately upon waking. 

I would close my diary, leave my phone on my desk, and go to bed with a calm mind. I fell asleep faster. 

The act of unwinding, of pushing stress to the back of my mind, got progressively easier. 

Because my head was clear, my sleep was less interrupted. I didn’t wake up intermittently throughout the night—as I usually do, about three times—and I wasn’t reluctant to leave my bed in the morning. 

I woke up earlier and felt comfortably energized. Not groggy, not wired, but content. 

One of the pleasures of keeping a gratitude journal was watching my entries accumulate, creating a catalog of positive thoughts. 

It’s easy to dwell on the negative, but spending the end of every day flipping through my notebook served as a reminder that—even if it’s not immediately evident—there is a lot to be thankful for. 

When you take the time to count your blessings—literally—you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the length of the list. 

Ending your day on a note of gratitude influences the rest of your life. Things you might usually take for granted—a friendly colleague, a good meal, even the weather—become little marvels when you take time to recognize their value. 

Documenting the best parts of your day also serves to remind you what really matters. Stress is ephemeral. Things go wrong, you fix them, you move on. 

The things we should be thankful for generally outlast our stressors. Weighing gratitude against stress proved to be an act of recalibration. 

While I can’t guarantee I’ll continue my gratitude diary forever, I know that keeping it has changed my mindset for the long term. 

When I get caught up in the throes of stress, in the hassles of the day-to-day, I’ll step back and write down what I’m grateful for. 

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