How A Gratitude Journal Changed My Life
Kelly Crowley '99
’Tis the season of gratitude. Are you posting daily bits of gratitude to your Facebook feed? Does a habit of gratitude make you more satisfied with your life? Does it matter what you are grateful for?
During my junior year at Santa Clara I was living in Dunne, working as a resident assistant. I could no longer ignore Oprah’s insistence that a gratitude journal would change my life. Every day, she implored us; before you go to bed, make a list of five things or people or interactions you are grateful for. I went on to keep a gratitude journal religiously for years.
Flipping back through the journal now is fascinating. Some entries are obvious and timeless: “The way some of the roses in Mission Garden change color - from white to orange to pink! So pretty.” Other entries bring back vivid, detailed memories of interactions with friends so fresh they might have happened hours instead of years ago. Still other entries appear to be quirky, funny moments that I clearly thought would be memorable for the rest of my life. Sixteen years on, I have no memory of them. It’s an odd feeling to stare at your own handwriting and think: “What does this mean?”
without exception, the things I expressed gratitude for were happy, funny, joyous, laugh-inducing moments
One aspect of my gratitude journal, however, seems glaringly missing: without exception, the things I expressed gratitude for were happy, funny, joyous, laugh-inducing moments.
I may never have noticed this, except for the fact that in early 2012, I faced no good choices, only hard, impossible-seeming challenges. Give in, fight on - I didn’t really want to do either, and I definitely didn’t think I had the strength to handle whichever path I chose. As a result, I spent much of the year thinking how can I be grateful for...any of this?
On one hand, when we are in the middle of adversity maybe it’s important to intentionally cultivate tiny moments of joy and happiness so that hope has a chance. On the other hand, maybe it’s important to take a different tack: Can we be grateful for adversity? What does it take to turn adversity into advantage?
Whatever the struggle, it cannot last forever. Eventually, the thing we have been enduring ends. Who are we when it ends? How does it end? What do we want our story to be?
Adversity gives us a landscape. It offers us the opportunity to be great.
Adversity gives us a landscape. It offers us the opportunity to be great. It creates the kind of pressure that is required for us to grow and to forge a stronger, wiser version of ourselves.
Yes, collect the tiny moments of happy gratitude in your journal and on your Facebook feed. But don’t ignore or even hate the hard things. Decide how you want your story to read when the struggle ends. That narrative gives you the power to turn adversity into advantage. And once you do that, gratitude is everywhere.