In October 2010, I began a gratitude journal. I was stimulated by the presentation of some research and also by an account given by a woman I know. Here are the two accounts.
Journal Entry: On Monday I listened to a presentation by Professor Kim Cameron. He reviewed some of research on gratitude. He showed a long list of psychological and biological benefits (including longer life) that come from doing things like keeping a gratitude journal. Then he showed something that really impressed me. First he pointed out that just as the heart has a rhythm (heart beat), the brain also has a rhythm that can be measured. He showed some graphs. They illustrated brain rhythms in a normal state and in a frustrated state. The two lines were jagged, but more so as frustration increased. He then showed the line when people were in a state of appreciation. The line showed such harmony that a number of the folks in the room reacted with a collective, “Oh.” Like them, I also thought it was quite striking. Kim said that if we can get into that state even once a day, it produces many of the long term payoffs he had cited earlier.
Journal Entry: I was at a meeting with some professional colleagues. One of my colleagues is a highly accomplished woman. She told us that she kept a gratitude journal for 18 months. We were impressed. Then she told us that she stopped. We were surprised and we implicitly communicated a feeling of disappointment. She picked up the implicit message and told us she quit because she no longer needed to keep the journal. She did not need to write because she was living in a continuous state of gratitude.
I was so impressed that I later asked her to tell me more. She indicated that her father was a very critical man and she grew up acquiring this same trait. If she heard a wonderful concert, but the soloist missed a note, she remembered the mistake, not the beautiful music that surrounded it. She related to people in a similar fashion. Rather than celebrating their gifts and the things they did right, she looked for their flaws (and with loved ones, constantly tried to help them correct them!). The quality of her life reflected her focus. Because she focused on the negative, what she saw inside herself and all around her were the flaws and the problems.
Doing the gratitude journal was very difficult at first and she struggled to find three things every day that were positive. But as she continued she experienced intrinsic rewards. The more she lived in the state of gratitude more desire she had to live in gratitude and the easier it became to do so. She extended her efforts and, in addition to continuing to write in her gratitude journal, involved her family in sharing three expressions of gratitude with each other at dinner every night. Her life became increasingly happy and her whole family became more focused on the gifts of the day and each other, than their flaws.
She was in essence, telling me the following. Her brain was naturally programmed to attend to the negative. She engaged in a discipline that had some short term rewards like increased happiness. But after 18 months there was a deeper change, she had a new way of being. When something happened, good or bad, her new framework led her to see and appreciate the good, even in the bad experiences. This means an extraordinary transformation had occurred. Her bad experiences were transformed. Because of her orientation, her bad experiences were instructive. They increased her adaptive capacity. This means all her experiences, good and bad, were accumulating for her good. By committing to self-change, she reprogrammed her old self into a better self, and she was living a more positive life for herself and others. In this story there is hope for all of us.
I have been keeping a gratitude journal since 2010. Once I started, I immediately began to notice positive differences and it was easy to keep going. Today I look back at over 1,500 pages. Each page is precious. Deciding to keep a gratitude journal was a very good thing to do.
What do I believe about gratitude?
What would happen if more gratitude was expressed at work?
How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?