I Kept A Journal For A Year & Here's What Happened

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When we hear the words "keeping a gratitude journal," it unconsciously summons a lot of associations. In my head, for instance, the kind of person who writes in a gratitude journal is also the kind of person who maintains the gorgeous Pinterest boards the rest of us abandoned in 2012, probably doesn't let their succulents casually die on the windowsill, knows how to make their own granola, and wakes up an extra 10 minutes early to greet the day by doing some light yoga. In short, the kind of person who writes a gratitude journal is sincere, emotionally sound, and has their life together.

Spoiler alert: That person is not me. I am all about fulfillment and supportive of the ways people get it, but I am also a raging cynical optimist, and have the unfortunate inability to take anything sentimental or enlightened seriously for more than a few seconds. Like, I tried to meditate once and I legitimately did not last a minute. The closest I've ever come to yoga is halfheartedly reaching for my coffee mug in the morning. I wish I was kidding, because all of this is not for lack of trying — but taking into account my disposition, my attention span, and that same struggle we all have with there not being enough hours in the day, I was just never going to be the ~gratitude journal~ type.

At least, I wasn't until last year. Like literally every other millennial with Internet access, I read about the concept in some roundup of ways to improve your life in the New Year. And honestly, writing a few lines about things that you were grateful about in a notebook didn't seem like that much work — I figured it was a fun excuse to buy a new notebook (a long existing weakness of mine), and that I'd probably abandon it in a few days the way I abandoned most of my self-improvement projects that didn't have immediate results. (I know, I know. Baby steps, guys.)

At first it felt like a total chore. I'd turn off the lights, get in bed, and — oh, crap. I hadn't written in that stupid journal. And some days when it felt like nothing had happened, I'd genuinely dread opening it. I was resistant to it for all sorts of unconscious reasons that, as I steadily got more into it, I addressed and resolved in a way I never knew I needed. Now that I'm over a year into keeping a gratitude journal, I have officially jumped on a bandwagon that I thought had long passed me by. If you're considering starting one, I highly recommend it for all the following reasons:

It Motivates You To Make Genuine Progress In Your Life

At first I was so resistant to keeping this journal because I had a dumb notion that everything I was grateful for had to be insanely interesting, or inspiring, or life-changing. Writing in it made me feel boring, and on some days, inadequate. Look at all the stuff you didn't get done today, the few lines seemed to tell me.

That, in turn, made me realize two very important things — the first being that just because something seems boring doesn't make it less important or impacting on our lives. Some days a random baby smiling at you in the elevator is the best thing that happens that day, and you shouldn't discredit that happy feeling just because you didn't climb Everest.

The second thing it forces you to acknowledge is that if most of your days are looking the same or feeling "boring," then you have to change your routine. If you want to fill up that journal with life-changing things, you have to change your life. For me, that meant a lot of things — writing more, auditioning more, deciding to move to New York. For someone else, it means something hella different. But the basic concept is the same: It makes you see that if you feel stagnant, you are the only one responsible for changing that.

You Respect Your Own Hustle A Lot More

It's easy, in times of weakness, to think defeatist things. I'm not going anywhere in life. I've plateaued. Nothing's ever going to change. We all have emo thoughts like that, sometimes on the daily, and it's a normal part of the human experience. But it's that much easier to turn that part of your brain off when you have these pages to look back on and see the physical evidence of your progress written out in front of you. It's like your past self defending your present self, and telling your future self you got this on lock.

It Is Basically A Lazy Version Of Journaling

I'm a writer, so I always envisioned myself as someone who would ~journal~ and leave my legacy behind between the pages of my Harry Potter themed diary. Turns out I suck at journaling, and I know I'm far from alone in that. I always thought it was a bit of a shame, but it also way too much of a commitment to maintain a journal, like babysitting an inanimate object. A gratitude journal is the perfect solution to this — you can basically write down the Cliff Notes of your life and not worry about writing an epic.

It Helps You Preserve Your Bright, Shiny Memories And Contextualizes The Bad Ones

There are things I wrote about last year that I entirely forgot about, but just looking at my own handwriting reminds me of that exact happy feeling I had at the time I was experiencing it. In comparison, I can't really remember the bad things that happened — or if I can, I see the effective ways I reframed them, rose above them, and powered through. It helps you be less bitter about the badness in your life, and weirdly appreciative of it and the way it motivated you instead.

It Is Personal To You And Only You, Which Is A Rarity These Days

We don't really have to worry about preserving a lot of the details about our lives, because the highlights are splashed everywhere — our Facebook profiles, our Twitter feeds, our Instagrams. Sure, these aren't exactly an accurate depiction of our lives, since we put our best social media foot forward, but the backbone of what happens to us ends up on there for everyone to see. Keeping a gratitude journal, though, is weirdly personal because it's for your eyes, and your eyes only. There are so few things that you write these days that aren't intended for mass consumption; this is the one place where you can say what you feel, however corny or silly or dumb, and keep the magic of it all for yourself.

You Will Look Like SOOOOO Much Of A Better Person After You Die

Just in case anyone does stumble on your shiz after you die? This will totally make up for all the indulgently angsty poetry your 14-year-old self still has hiding under your childhood bed in your parents' house and your cringe-worthy browser history. Just saying!

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