Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
November 15th, 2011

Taking Inventory, Giving Thanks

How the practice of writing in a gratitude journal has become a 10-year spiritual practice

 
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I’ve only kept one New Year’s resolution.

Well, maybe I’ve kept more, but the fact that I can’t remember any others I’ve made makes me think that they weren’t kept.

When I was 16 years old, on our first day back after winter break, my English teacher asked us what our New Year’s resolutions were. I remember one classmate saying that she had decided to keep a gratitude journal, an idea she heard about on the Oprah Winfrey show.

Being an Oprah fanatic, my interest was piqued.

It seems odd to admit that I love writing but hate journaling. It’s the type of feeling I get from hand writing a letter, too. My handwriting and thoughts start out all nice and beautiful, and by the end, I am scribbling indiscernibly and my fingers are throbbing.

But this was different. Instead, she was going to list everything she was thankful for each day. Lists? Oh, I love lists! I can definitely do lists.

So, I started. I found a tiny composition notebook and began writing 10 things I was grateful for as part of my nightly prayer. Everyone says don’t forget to tell God what you’re thankful for, not simply what you need, so this sounded like a good plan.

Well, here I am 10 years later, and the journals still exist. In fact, they sit in my basement, numbered, and in chronological order. They are the inanimate things I would try to grab from a burning house.
In fact, they are perhaps my biggest accomplishment in life so far.

When my mom threw out a bunch of love letters my dad wrote to her in order to “de-clutter” the house a few years ago, I almost went into cardiac arrest (she since regrets her decision). Who my parents were before me has always been a point of fascination to me, and I want to pass these journals on to my children so they know who I was for the majority of my life, with and without them, especially if I grow old and gray and fall victim to a disease like Alzheimer’s. Watching my dad slip away to a degenerative neurological disease has made me realize I only have a limited amount of time to ask him what he thought about being in the Air Force or what made him marry my mother.

But there are other reasons I kept doing it, too. I think a gratitude journal is a great way to take inventory of your life. Rather, to assess how you view your life.

For instance, there are some days that I have so much to be grateful for, I am writing in the margins. Sometimes I stare at the page after writing one entry about the nice weather. “Really, Christina?” I ask myself, “You can’t come up with 10 things?!”

I always do. There are always more than 10 things to be grateful for in my life. However, I don’t always see them.

Keeping this journal reminds me to keep an eye on the small things in life, not simply the big ones.

Remaining grateful

Over the years, I’ve always added to the list a quote someone said to me that day that affected me and something I saw beauty in, too. The quotes are more for my future children, and recognizing beauty is an excellent way to express gratitude.

To see the world through the eyes of gratitude is to take a daily dose of The Big Three: faith, hope, and love. In a world of suffering and injustice, it allows me to still have faith. God is still here, not entirely drowned out by the headlines of despair. It gives me hope, knowing that I will have at least 10 things to be thankful for each day for the rest of my life. And it is a lesson in love. Love shows up a lot in my journals. Romantic love, of course — the heart of a young girl and subsequently a young woman — but other forms of love, too: like being grateful for the unconditional love shown to me by my parents, or finding one small thing I am grateful for about someone I wouldn’t otherwise particularly like.

So, I think Thanksgiving should get a little more airtime and not in the green-bean-and-turkey-specials sort of way. Television and the media are anxious to glaze over Thanksgiving, eager to commence Christmas mania. But as Catholics, we teach that it’s not just about the day: it’s about the lifestyle.

Take Lent. I remember being devastated when I was told we should actually try to keep our Lenten promises past Easter. What?! You want me to change?! This seemed like a lot to ask, having many plans to gorge myself on item-of-the-year after Easter Mass.

But on my better days, I do admit these holidays are not simply about reminding but more so remaining. Remaining aware. Remaining changed. Remaining thankful.

 
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The Author : Christina Gebel
Christina Gebel has theology and psychology degrees from a Midwest Catholic university. After college, she spent two years as a full-time volunteer at a faith-based organization in Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys writing, taking walks, photography, and serving as a doula. She currently resides on the East Coast and is pursuing a master’s degree of public health in maternal and child health.
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