For many years I was a foul-weather journaler. I didn’t see the point of writing positive things down. Writing was a way for me to solve problems and feel better. If I felt good there wasn’t really much point in writing anything!
In ‘Letter to My Daughter’ Maya Angelou, tells a story of returning home after traveling on tour with an Opera. At this point in her life she was not yet a writer. She describes how the reunion with her young son, was so emotional that, ‘I must confess it may have sent me over the edge.’ She started to worry about her son growing up in a racist society, and began to have thoughts about killing him.
She went to visit her singing teacher to tell him she was going crazy. He gave her a pen, and a yellow pad of paper and told her to write down her blessings.
So Angelou wrote them down. Simple things like she had ears to hear a choir, eyes to see a waterfall or a lover’s face. When she had finished writing the feeling of madness was gone.
In ‘Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude can Make you Happier.’ Robert Emmons describes how writing about gratitude can make us happier and healthier. In one study in participants wrote daily about five things they were grateful for. These writers felt better about their lives, had more optimism about the future, and fewer health problems, than those who wrote about five daily hassles or five daily events. In other studies, it was found that writing about gratitude could result in better sleep and even protect from heart attacks.
Nowadays I try to keep a balance in my writing. I write about what I am grateful each day, often at the beginning or end of a writing session. It’s sometimes hard to remember which is why I keep a ‘gratitude pebble’ on my desk. When I look at the pebble I remember to write what I am grateful for.
Writing is a way to go into the darkness, to transform it into something brighter. But its important to remember to visit the places where the light already shines.
Simply write down five things you are grateful for each day. It’s also a good exercise to try when you have been focusing on the negative in your writing and need to redress the balance.