Eric was 16 and knew it all so had no reason to participate, apparently, in a journaling class I was teaching. We got along OK, and respected each other, but he wasn’t exactly a great contributor in attitude or ideas to the group. But after I gave one assignment to the group–he came back the next class and participated instead of just joking or hanging out in the back with his crew and interrupting. In fact, he wanted to tell everyone the incredibly good experiences he had because of the assignment. Probably half the class had good experiences they told, and the others just hadn’t done it.
I’ve taught journaling classes to 10 year olds and seniors and most everyone between. I’ve taught them to improve your health (yes there’s good evidence for that), to be a writer, and to explore your spirituality. But this exercise that Eric liked is some kind of universal that works with everyone who gives it a try no matter why they are journaling. I also use it sometimes with career coaching clients
The activity is simple, fast, and easy–what more can you want? In the version I give, I ask people to keep a gratitude journal for 5 minutes a day at least 3x a week for the length of the course, which varies.
It may sound obvious to some of you or corny to others, but it makes people happier, more relaxed and more energized in my experience.
In recent years, I’m finding support for this very old idea in very new research. Here’s a nice summary of some of it from PsyBlog. I was surprised to find that there were better results form doing this just once a week vs. daily or 3x as I had recommended.
The key I find when I’ve used the exercise (myself and with others) is to make sure to pick things that you actually feel grateful for and don’t get caught up in what others may say you SHOULD be grateful for. If everyone says you should be grateful you weren’t hurt badly when someone totalled your car and you’re just feeling angry–don’t list that in your gratitude journal. You might consider it, but don’t put down what you should feel. Do put down even small things that you are grateful for. You’ll know the difference.
Why is this a post in my career ideas blog?
Simple–if you’re getting stuck lately (or any time) on lousy economic news, lousy work or personal news and getting pessimistic and unhappy, you are not going to be effective in finding a new job, deciding a career or even being your best at work wherever you are now. On the other hand, if you can find things that are positive in your life that you actually feel grateful for, you will change your mindset Or rather, thinking gratefully has a cascade effect and automatically changes your mindset.
To put it simply–it makes you happier. But here’s the point even some of the researchers may not be noting–it makes you happier by CONNECTING YOU TO YOUR OWN LIFE. That kind of happiness will always get you more creative, more engaged, and more hopeful, too–which is what I saw in Eric.
Who knows? It might even make you happier with your current work when you thought you had to leave, and that might rub off on that annoying boss or colleague. Well, optimism is good too.
© 2009 Leonard Lang. Feel free to reprint if you list the copyright and a link to this site, http://choosingacareerblog.com