Look for the Joy

Have you ever heard the expression “memories fade, but ink lasts?”

Isn’t it the truth? Whether it’s reflecting on heartwarming moments from our children’s earliest years or remembering the last few tender things a dying parent whispered to us, we think we’ll never forget. Yet we do. The edges get blurry.

Part of what fuels my passion for the Leave Nothing Unsaid movement is knowing the tremendous power and importance of the written word and of being able to read and re-read affirming sentiments from those who matter most. The value of those gifts is inestimable.

But writing things down, using “ink,” has even more benefits than that. I am reminded, once again, of the treasure and power of keeping a daily gratitude journal and want to challenge and encourage each of you to try it for 30 days.

This week marks another trip around the sun for me. Part of what I like to do as I approach a birthday is to reflect on the previous year: what I’ve learned about myself and what lessons God has taught me, I reflect on answered prayers and goals achieved. And I always look back through my gratitude journal and make a list of the “highlights” of the previous year of life (I list a few “lowlights,” too, just to keep it real!)

 

Nearly every day over the last fifteen years, I’ve jotted down, in “bullet” format, four or five reasons I’m grateful. Honestly, it is the best possible thing I have done for my mental health. Some days, they are “big things” like precious time with my daughter, buying a home that I love, a friend’s recovery from cancer. But most days, my entries might be considered “small” or “insignificant” by many: the joy of a hearty laugh with friends, the delight of seeing my pup romping with his best canine buddy ‘Bilbo Waggins,’ encouraging words from a dear friend, a breathtaking sunset or morning sky, the taste of that first perfect peach of the summer.

Does the list always come easily? No. On a few rare days, I stare at the paper and struggle with what to write. Perhaps it had been a lonely, seemingly monochromatic day. I wait. I think. I pray. Before long, I am quickly reminded of gifts that others would cherish such as arms and legs that work, eyes that can see, the comfort of a faithful pet, the lift provided by a beautiful song, living in a safe and walkable neighborhood. I realize that there are always reasons to be grateful.

Why am I so passionate about the importance of this practice?

  • Let’s face it: life is hard. Focusing on the negatives is easy. Yet often, we lose sight of the countless blessings we experience on a daily basis. As an example, until my dad became visually impaired, I didn’t really appreciate what a tremendous gift it is to be able to see a loved one's face or the beautiful shades of a flower. Now, I try to say “thank you” when I see something of beauty.
  • Half-full or half-empty? We’ve all been around Eeyore-type people who have a highly tuned ability to identify what’s wrong in every situation. What does spending time with a person like that do for you? A benefit of keeping a gratitude journal is that you are training yourself to see the positive things in life and not feed your inner Eeyore. (We can all go there!) And when you build your gratitude muscle, those around you will benefit. For “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) We will inevitably talk about what we reflect on most.

  • Who likes a spoiled child? Have you ever heard an overindulged child complain about a gift they didn’t like or an inconvenience to their plans? Not too pleasant, is it? Well, if you believe, as I do, that “every good and perfect gift is from above,” (James 1:17) then just imagine what our ingratitude and grumbling sounds like to God. Ouch.
  • The benefit of perspective. No one’s life is perfect or easy. Hard things happen to us all, and it they haven’t yet, just wait! When we focus daily on reasons for gratitude, when the hard times hit, we can keep them in much better perspective.
  • Health Benefits. Studies abound that cite the physiological and psychological benefits of practicing gratitude including reduced inflammation, better sleep, improved overall mental health, greater longevity and strengthened immune system.
  • Promises made, promises kept. Scripture tells us: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things….and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9 What a promise for focusing on the best things in life!

After my recent time of reflection, I came to a conclusion that stopped me in my tracks: the last year of my life has been the best year of my life! Has it been perfect? Not in the least. All prayers answered? Nope. All goals achieved? Far from it. Yet I can see, with great clarity, how wonderful this last lap around the sun has been. That clarity has come, in part, from taking the time to write down the big and little joys I have experienced each day. And I believe, with all my heart, that the rest of my life will be the best of my life. I believe that can be true for you, too.

Give it a try! Even if you dread the idea of journaling, you can do this. Just jot down a list. And do it again tomorrow. I’d love to hear from you after you try it for 30 days!

 

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