The gist of it, according to my friend, is to spend five minutes every day thinking about things we are grateful for and taking a few moments to write those things down. This way, she said, we acknowledge the small things that add to our life, focusing on the good instead of the bad.
This was two years ago, just after the guy I had been dating dropped me — unexpectedly — and I was left with a bunch of unsorted feelings and a broken heart. I didn’t take the news well. I cried. I felt angry. I wanted to get in my car and do things folk on MTV and wives on Bravo are famed to do. But being a man of a certain age, I decided to stay home and mope. And mope I did. To the point where family and friends started to worry and urged me to do something — anything — to get myself out of my funk.
That’s when my friend introduced me to the Five Minute Journal. The small, hardcover book is a space to spend five minutes every day recording positive thoughts and actions that occur during the day. This way I remind myself that happiness is something I shouldn’t pursue, but rather something I work at. The journal is made up of pages with the same prompts to be answered day to day. Over the course of weeks and months, the practice of noticing small blessings and occurrences lead to a realization that, even when life seems to be at its lowest, there’s always something to be grateful for.
The Journal is based on the pop-modern “psychology of happiness.” This is the slice of modern psych that has yielded a number of bestselling books telling us that we’re not really happy until we follow the guidelines outlined in the books. Buy them. Read them. And you’ll be happy. Each book has its own different take and strategy for feeling good, but one thing they all agree on is that having a sense and feeling of gratitude enhances the way we look at ourself, our life, and the world around us. This, in turn, rewires our brain to focus on the good instead of fixating on the bad. By taking note and preparing for the day ahead, and by noting the good parts of the day, the Journal chips away at the hard, angry feelings walling our heart, and slowly digs in to what is most often overlooked or taken for granted. It is in noticing and realizing what it is we take for granted that happiness lives.
At my friend’s suggestion, I took on the dare of working on the Five Minute Journal every day for a week. If I failed to write in the journal during that week, I swore to donate $100 to our Fake-Prez’s 2020 campaign. The dare was enough to get me moving, and every day I wrote in the book felt like a vote against him.
It’s now over a year since that initial week and I’ve completed two journals. After the initial week, and long after the dare was completed, I skipped a day or two; I may have forgotten to fill in empty spaces; but the practice continues, and I now note the things that add to my life and make me happy. I have also shuffled things around. So instead of purchasing another book to work with, I decided to create my own version of the journal — I uploaded a PDF file for anyone who wants to download, make copies, and keep a journal for themselves. My version follows in the spirit of the original. I decided to make changes to the order and the prompts because over time the sequence and modifications made more sense to me.
For the morning part of the journal, there’s a space for the day’s date at the top of the page. That’s followed by a few lines to write the day’s affirmation. Here I write one of a number of affirmations I’m currently working with. The affirmation I choose sets the tone for the day, and it’s a reminder for me, early in the morning while I drink my coffee, of what I hope my intention for the day to be. Following the affirmation are three goals I hope to accomplish during the day. Three things, and three things only; this way I don’t feel overwhelmed or like my day will be impossible. Checking off the three items means I had a good day. These can be simple things like grocery shopping or folding laundry; they can also be big things like writing a blog post or getting through the day without losing my temper. The goals are written so there’s a record of the day’s tasks, but I don’t berate myself if one, two, or all three are forgotten or remain undone (if they are, I move them to the following day, until they are done). Finally, before heading out and starting the day, I record a quote or positive saying I catch on Instagram or the Internet from the myriad of meditation sites I follow. Each site publishes a number of wisdom quotes each day I like to record in my book. This way my library of wise sages grows by a sentence each day — and I’m all the wiser.
The evening part of the journal begins by noting three amazing things that happened during the day. These can be as amazing as winning the lottery or getting through the day in one piece. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate and be grateful for finding a parking space at a full-lot; having time to read a book before bed; sitting in the backyard with Lucky dog; reading some of my favorite blogs; or having dinner with a friend at our favorite restaurant. Anything goes in this space. The trick is not to be fooled by the word “amazing.” That is the tricky part of this prompt. Amazing can be HUGE, or sometimes it can be small. I’ve learned that something amazing usually can be found right under my nose — and happiness usually lies in those small things. The next prompt is the hardest: every day I try to write down three things I like about myself. Try doing this for a number of days. If you don’t get stuck the first day, sooner or later you will. There are days when I get stuck and struggle to find something to like about myself. But that is the point of the prompt. The challenge is to find something to like about yourself when you’re having a bad moment, a bad day, a bad life. I always pause when I get to this question. It’s like meeting the Sphinx and trying to answer one of her riddles. I almost always get stumped. Finally, we get to the journal’s raison d’être: what am I grateful for today? Here is where I note those little moments, the people, the situations, or the miracles — big or small — that I am grateful for.
Writing on this journal, day after day, has helped me realize that even when I’m having a bad or terrible day, there’s something to be grateful for. Sometimes those things can be a blanket to pull over my head at the end of a long day; a friend calling in to check in on me; or a pup wagging it’s tale letting me know it’s time for him to take me out for a walk. Sometimes it’s something bigger. The point is, there’s always something good, no matter how mundane it may seem, to be happy and grateful for.