Gratitude and Happiness: How journaling helps mental health

by Manisha Jain

19 April,2020 | 6 months read

"I had worked really hard for this exam, and I later realized that I made an error on it. I definitely won't be topping my class. Feels like all my efforts went to waste", woefully said to me a client of mine who is pursuing her postgraduate degree. Intrigued, I asked her how a single error undermined all the hard work she believes she had put in for the test. Tearfully, she said, 

"Because I'm just not good enough! I can't be making silly errors like that!" 

Often, we get caught up in our childhood narratives of perfection and worth, where we perceived and learned that for one to be good, one has to be perfect. As children, we internalise this piece of information, which later plays out in themes of our adulthood. 

While it may have helped some of us as children by motivating us, or helping us concentrate; as we move ahead through the developmental stages, it may no longer be applicable. Influenced by this internalised narrative, we often chide ourselves for not being a good enough employee, or parent, or partner, or friend. 

We experience the same feeling of guilt and shame that we are familiar with from our childhood, and it feels right. Not long after, we begin to view ourselves through these inaccurate lenses which filter and show us only the life situations where we make errors, or are not good enough. We turn blind to the daily achievements and acts of courage that we perform everyday.

 Focusing on our imperfections, over time, our self-efficacy or the degree of control we perceive over ourselves reduces. We fall victim to the negative loop perennially running through our minds and submit to it, feeling less and less motivated everyday to perform the daily activities of achievements and courage. 

Most of us experience this to varying degrees. One does not have to be clinically depressed or anxious to resonate with it. Simple acts of self-care can restore our self-esteem, and restructure the narrative which is now obsolete, and no longer helpful. 

One such act of self-care is maintaining a gratitude journal for self. All it takes is for us to write down 3 new things that we did that day which we are proud of. It can be a part of our bed-time ritual when we scan over our day and thank ourselves for engaging in those 3 behaviours (even when they were so painful or difficult). 

Here, we don't just thank ourselves for grand achievements, like winning a game, or helping someone needy. It could be any act of kindness and courage that we displayed towards ourselves, others, or the world; like "I like that I cleaned my room today" , "I like that I'm fostering a lost kitten", or "I like that I gave my best when preparing for an exam". Then we read the journal in the morning when we wake up. We can journal on our phones, laptop, or a notebook. Let's do it everyday for 30 days. 

Few points to be mindful of: 

1. In the beginning, it may be frustrating because we can't remember even 3 things. It can make us feel lousy about ourselves, and we may feel like giving the activity up. Have patience, our filters are slowly widening. Soon, we'll be able to see a more wholesome self. Consistency is the key here. 

2. Over time, our self-efficacy increases, and we become more conscious towards our achievements, and regain the sense of control over ourselves. 

3. Bolstered with this redeveloped self-efficacy, we feel more motivated to participate in different activities. 

Let's take a few minutes every night to thank ourselves. Let's break the unhealthy cycle, and show ourselves some compassion, not hate.