The other day I plucked off the shelf and dusted off my weekly calendar for 2008. It stands in a long line of failed attempts to keep some semblance of a journal–and stick with it. The photos in that journal are from Grand Canyon, Arches, Zion, Bruce Canyon, and even one taken in Peacham, Vermont, where my mother’s best friend and her husband ran a farm. They took my breath away just as much as the day I stood in Border’s Bookshop and decided to buy it. But written on the pages inside? Sadly, almost nothing.
But despite these failed efforts, I never lose hope. Each year in late December I hit up the calendar sales and buy my journal of the year. And each January 1st, I faithfully open its pages to write my first entry. But (sigh) most years I don’t even make it to the end of January. Things come up. I have too much to do. It’s hard to remember to write it in every day, especially when I’m already late getting to bed. Soon it becomes clear there’s no way I can catch up. And off it goes to the graveyard of good journal intentions.
This year, though, is different. Last year I did a lot of reading about happiness (see my Resources section for the few books I would most recommend). One of the most touted ways to bring more happiness into our lives is to keep a gratitude journal. I first read about this in Robert Emmons’s book thanks! So then what did I do? You guessed it. I bought a small notebook and started my own gratitude journal. How long did it last? I’ll spare you the details.
So this year I tried two new things. First, I made a firm commitment to make an entry in the journal every day for at least 21 days. This is how long, I’ve been told, it takes to create a new habit. Second, I decided to write down only pleasing memories of the days. Complaining was officially off limits. You might call this a modified version of the gratitude journal. And here I am, on February 10th, having written an entry for all 40 days of the year so far. Finally, success! And I’m quite sure I’m hooked and will keep at it.
What’s different? Here’s my take on it. Writing about only positive things makes this journal light, something to celebrate, a powerful reminder of the good things in my life. Quite simply, it brings me joy. Also, I find myself, as I move through the day, looking for good memories to jot down that night. The journal seems to tint the lens through which I watch my life—and maybe even live it–in welcome colors.
You may want to give this approach a try. But go lightly. Make it work for you. Find ways to catch up easily when you forget. (For example, if I go to work having forgotten to write anything down the night before, at the beginning of my work day I will take literally one minute to jot down a few good memories from the day before. That way I can transfer them to my journal that night.) So go easy on yourself. But to have a record at the end of the year of positive memories over the past 365 days…how cool is that?!