The slogan, “No pain, no gain,” was popularized in 1981 by Jane Fonda who panted it throughout her workout videos. Since that time, it has been used by fitness advocates around the world to justify the muscular discomfort which comes from strenuous exercise and weightlifting. But the expression isn’t just for those that want to become healthier and stronger—it is equally applicable to those who want to strengthen their character and develop new strengths. After all, the road to achievement regularly runs through the forest of adversity.
But some burdens are easier to bear than others, and in the case of developing the strength of gratitude, the most important exercise we can do is to take a few moments every day, reflect on the things that deserve our gratitude, and record them for later review.
In the best-selling book Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, author Sarah Ban Breathnach recommends that you create a gratitude journal and write down at least five things you’re grateful for each night before bedtime. If you do this religiously, according to the author, “you simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life. And you will have set in motion an ancient spiritual law; the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you.”
There will be times when it is difficult to think of five positive things to write down. You may feel sick, discouraged, or depressed. This is an excellent opportunity to review some of your previous entries which will almost certainly boost your mood. But the most powerful entries often occur when you make the extra effort to write down positive things about your negative experiences. For example, you could say, “Even though I’ve been sick today, I’m grateful to live at a time in history when I have access to affordable and effective medications.”
Researchers have reported that individuals who keep daily gratitude journals exercise more regularly, report fewer physical problems, feel better about their lives, and have higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy compared to those who record hassles or neutral life events (Emmons and McCullough, Counting blessings versus burdens: Experimental studies of gratitude and subjective well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389).
Just like exercise, maintaining a gratitude journal takes persistence and consistence. Once you turn it into a daily routine or ritual, before long you’ll find that you’re not only more grateful, but that you’re more flexible and able to handle the daily stresses that come your way. You’ll find that you’ve become happier and more optimistic. And you’ll gain more self-confidence as you see your progress through challenging situations.
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”Oprah Winfrey
Assignment A: For the next seven days, before you go to bed, spend a couple of minutes reviewing the day for positive things that brought you joy. Then write a few words about five benefits or blessings that caused you to feel grateful. For example, getting a paycheck, seeing a baby smile at you, tasting chocolate, feeling the sun on your face, or smelling a freshly cut lawn. Record some of your entries.
Assignment B: For the next seven days, make a gratitude photo album. Take a photograph (or find a photo on the internet) of at least five things every day for which you are thankful. Upload the images or send a link to the images you’ve placed on a photo-sharing website.