Every week, I read lots of articles about how to get over your divorce. And a surprising number of these stories are about the benefits of a daily gratitude journal.
Have you tried this? I have done gratitude journals over long periods during difficult times in my life, sometimes with the desired effect and sometimes not.
The purpose of the gratitude journal seems to be: Things could be so much worse. Appreciate the little things (food in the fridge, clothes on your back), because, if you don’t, even these small comforts may be taken from you.
Over the years, I’ve even advocated gratitude here on the divorce blog, and in one or two of my videos. It does have its place.
Gratitude journal benefits: exactly what are they?
When your mind and emotions are spinning out of control because of the havoc divorce has wreaked in your life, sometimes we all need a dose of “it could be so much worse,” and “there are things to be grateful for here,” and “we could be starving on the streets of ______________.” God(dess) is merciful.
But, here’s where it starts to fall apart for me as something to recommend to my divorce coaching clients.
After just a few days, clients find that they’re writing the same ten things over and over again. And that process just reinforces how dire circumstances really seem and how stuck they feel. So, I never use the gratitude journal process as anything more than an emergency measure — for those times when you can’t seem to find anything at all to hang onto as a positive in life.
Once we’ve achieved a little bit of balance and perspective, we quickly move on to activities that bring quick wins and a feeling that, “Yes, I can do this! I can get relief!”
Here’s what happens when a woman who’s valiantly trying to heal from divorce centers on gratitude journaling as a device to feel better. She starts to feel, “I know I should be grateful that things aren’t even worse, but I’m actually starting to feel angrier. When does this start to lift? When does this get better?”
“It could be so much worse, and I’m grateful for . . .” seems like a cold shower without soap.
I say: Put away that sad gratitude journal and break out the big, bold, colorful sharpies, the bubble wands, the dance music, and the rhinestone tiaras. Not your style? That’s okay. Keep reading anyway. (You don’t really need a tiara, promise.)
Appreciation and gratitude: what’s the difference?
Sometimes you don’t need gratitude. You need something that makes you laugh. You need something ridiculous. Something that breaks the spell of relentless doom that divorce has ushered into your life.
Because we become resigned to this doomsday mood and noxious atmosphere.
We keep hearing about the 5 stages of grief after divorce as if this is a thing (it isn’t).
Why? Why should we feed the monster this way?
Yes, this situation is just awful. Yes, life seems out of control. But we don’t have to keep beating ourselves over the head with how we should be grateful it’s not soooooo much worse.
Appreciation has a different vibe. Delight. Pleasant surprises. Laughter. Friendship. Lightness.
If you’re into journaling, an appreciation journal could look and feel completely different than that pen-and-paper list of gratitude items. It could be on your phone or on Pinterest or on your Instagram feed.
You could snap a picture every time something delights you. You could do a video share when someone does something nice for you. (“Look at this amazing latte my coworker just brought me!”) You could share a favorite song that you’d forgotten about, but happened to hear over the PA at Target.
It’s a game. Look for three things a day that you find delightful — no matter how small.
I know. You probably don’t feel like trying this, but trust me.
Remember what makes you laugh. Remember what brings you wonder and awe. Find the things that remind you why you like (or liked) living.
And put the evidence someplace where you can find it every time you feel dreadful. Hint: Your phone. I have an album I call “Inspiration” with lovely traces of happiness from my daily life: photos, little videos, songs . . . all in one place.
So often, childhood pastimes will get you to that place. That’s why I suggest the colored pens, bubble wands, and dance music. Try replacing that gratitude journal slog with taking a few minutes to remember that girl who still lives inside you.
Dream those touchstones that remind you who you truly are inside. The fairytale creature that still lives in you and wants to show you lots of amazing sights, sounds, scents, textures, and tastes.
Instead of journaling about what you’re grateful for (ever notice how the same five or ten things keep repeating, and it’s hard to drag up more?) look around and see what you appreciate around you. You’ll notice different things every time you go outside, go to work, or observe the people around you. It’s ever changing.
Look for the happy. Look for the fun. And give yourself the gift of a few moments to see it and feel it. (You’re still a responsible adult if you let yourself have a quick break from the serious, adult disaster. And, from this place of appreciation and wonder, new, magical solutions and opportunities are born.)
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