Often, I use journaling when I’m feeling down. I can get very down, and it helps to put it on paper.
Today, I just picked up one of my little journals and read some stuff I’d written. I didn’t read the date. It was a whimpering gripe about some guy who didn’t love me. It’s a gripe I have today about some guy who doesn’t love me. When I looked at the date, it was 6 years old, and it was totally a different guy. It made me sick.
What a whining griper I am. How many years can I hang out with the same pathetic gripes about men? I love men! Can’t I think of something else to say about them?
Plenty of blank pages were left in that little journal, so I decided to start with gratitude. I decided to be specific. I started with the father of my children. I wrote a whole page of all the specific things I was grateful for, all the gifts he’d given me. I started thinking of all the guys I’d never thanked, for all the guys I’d judged, guys who had no idea of how much they contributed to my life. I took time on each one. I spent about 3 hours at this, throughout the day. I was specific. I named names, I wrote the little things we’d done together that I was grateful for, the lessons I learned. I thought about the complete mystery of friendship and human connection.
I went to the gym. I sat in the Jacuzzi. A cute guy chatted me up. He must have known what I was up to with that notebook, because guys don’t chat me up much these days. Possibly because I’m usually a whining griper. Ya think?
I added some more people to the notebook. I’m going to add the women, too. I have no goal in mind, just gratitude.
If you are my friend, you are probably thinking, OK, can I read this page you wrote about me? Nope. You have to call me and hear me read it to you out loud. If I don’t yet have a page for you, I’ll make something up spontaneously. I promise you’ll be surprised by some of the things I’ll say. I was surprised.
Here’s what I learned about gratitude:
- Specific gratitude is incredibly powerful. Being grateful for the time my Dad picked me up when my spirit broke down on a bicycle ride seemed more powerful than “thanks for always being there for me”.
- Writing it down is powerful. I’m such a lazy cheater sometimes. Every day I do gratitude exercises, but I just say it in my head. Having it on that piece of paper brought out other things. Also, now I can read that notebook in another 6 years and it won’t be full of whining gripes. (I can be grateful to my friend Greg for that. We had dinner last week and he told me that every day he writes down 5 things, and then reads it at the end of the year. I thought, that sounds like a lot of work. I said “wow, cool” and then went home and tried it.)
I learned about myself, too. If you’ve read this far, you must be a friend of mine. If you are a friend of mine you probably know that I value friendship more than anything else. If you’re a family member of mine, you probably noticed that too. Sorry. But I’ve never given a lot of thought about what I valued most in friendship. After 30 pages of gratitude, I now know.
- Love. We say “that goes without saying.” Well, that’s for sure. And I don’t just mean I should say it more, but I mean I should hear it more. As I did the gratitude pages, I was aware of how much the men in my life love me, but how deaf I am to that most of the time. Love is shown in the little things, like pointing out something beautiful as you drive by in a car. I spent a vacation with a guy who did that the whole trip. He’d be saying “look at this” and “look at that” and the whole time I wondered why kept doing that. It was an expression of his love and attention, but I was oblivious.
- Humor. Not everyone has it, but it was a recurring theme. When someone smiles, it’s a light on all the world. That wasn’t funny, but you can laugh anyway. I remembered specific funny things people had said or when they laughed at my jokes or appreciated my humor. Humor is my favorite way to deal with things that aren’t perfect, as in, everything.
- Forgiveness. We all make a lot of mistakes, and the ones I make tend to be rather huge. It’s like I have this crazy radar that knows the absolute worst thing to say with the precise worst timing, and I do it. A guy once pointed this out to me, but knowing it didn’t stop it from happening. If you are reading this, you probably know exactly what I mean and can point to at least one of those instances. My good friends forgive me all my transgressions. If they didn’t, I’d have no friends.
The side effect of gratitude is warmth. I’ve walked around all day with this warm feeling. I feel completely excited and inspired to fill up the whole book. That never happens with journals where I gripe.
The last entry I wrote was to a friend who I’ve known for over 30 years. That’s a long time. I was quite immature 30 years ago and even 20 years ago, and sometimes it’s hard to believe anyone could have put up with me through all those years. I mean, this is one of the people who has seen the worst of my gripes, my ups and downs, really seen it all. What I had to say was this:
“With you I never felt you had to forgive me for my faults. It was as if you never saw them.”