Gratitude journals: A great addition to your mental health toolkit

A quick and easy tool to help improve your mental health and wellbeing.

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Often people use the New Year as a time to reflect on their lives, looking back over the past year at what they did and didn’t do, what went well and what didn’t go as planned. Many people naturally focus on what they don’t have and what’s not going so well in their life, particularly in comparison to other people they know.

This can be a recipe for misery, as there will always be someone out there who has more money, a better job, a bigger house or a more ‘perfect’ body than you. Perhaps you’ve recently given up something in your life, like smoking weed, and you’re struggling to see life positively while you’re experiencing a tough withdrawal phase and the craving drags on.

A gratitude journal is a simple tool you can use to redirect your thinking back to you and your blessings. It will only take you five minutes a day to get happier and appreciate your life more.

So how do you create a gratitude journal?

First, get yourself a journal or blank diary. This can be anything from a simple lined exercise book (which only costs you a few dollars), through to a more decorative or bespoke journal that you might cherish for years. Any old pen will do, but you might also like to purchase a special journal pen, if that appeals to you.

Then, in the hours before you go to bed at night, write down a list of five things you’re grateful for in your life. Now, these can be anything from the relationships in your life, or your health, through to smaller things like the dinner you really enjoyed that day, or the warmth and comfort of the bath you just had. It’s important you actually write these things down, not just think them, as writing things allows us to more effectively organise our thoughts and add meaning to them.

At first you may find it tricky to come up with five different things, but as you develop further in your writing you should find it easier. The trick to keeping a gratitude journal is to stick at it. You might find it a challenge to remember to incorporate this new habit into your evening routine, so try leaving your diary as a visual queue next to your bedside so you don’t forget, or complete your diary entry immediately after another activity you routinely do without thinking every night, like brushing your teeth.

What can I do to take my gratitude journal to the next level?

Professor Martin Seligman, the leader of the positive psychology movement, advocates for taking the gratitude journal one step further. Instead of just writing what you’re grateful for, write down what went well during your day and why. This is called the ‘Three Blessings Exercise’.

People naturally focus on what didn’t go well, instead of what went well in their lives, and like the simple gratitude journal, this exercise gives you an opportunity to refocus your brain towards the positive. Our brains are naturally hard-wired to think about things that might not go well, and dwell on things that didn’t go well in the past. In our caveman days we needed this negative attitude to fight off the constant threat to our lives (like a sabre-toothed tiger that could be lurking behind any bush). Today, we’re not often under the same threat as our historical relatives, but as our brains don’t realise this, we have to train them to think more positively.

In the Three Blessings Exercise, write down three things that went well and why they went well. For example, you might write ”I really enjoyed a delicious dinner tonight”, and then you would add the reason it went well, such as “The dinner was delicious because I spent time thinking about what I would prepare and put a lot of effort into making sure it turned out well.”

Applying this to quitting cannabis

You might wonder what all this has to do with quitting cannabis. When quitting weed, some of the common lead up steps are identifying positives and negatives of change, goals and reasons/motivators for change and things that might stand in your way. But once you start quitting, it can be easy to forget those lists and start focusing on how much you’re craving, or how quitting is affecting you negatively. Using a gratitude journal and identifying the good things in your life can start to put things back into perspective. It can help you realise that despite how ordinary you may be feeling, there are things in life going right, and as you get further into quitting, there are more-and-more things that seem to be falling into place.

Naturally, creating a gratitude journal is just one tool to help maintain a healthy mental attitude. If you are suffering from a mental health disorder, like anxiety or depression, it’s important you seek professional help – try calling Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. And if you think you may be suffering negative mental health effects as a result of cannabis use, try calling our free national cannabis helpline on 1800 30 40 50.

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