Journaling has definitely been trending a lot lately. But I haven’t had a journal since junior high school and the thought of starting one again felt daunting. Do I really need to write down the details of my day? I barely have enough time each day to get tasks done, let alone write about them later on. I know a lot of people personally who love gratitude journals and they mentioned how writing in one helped with their mental health. So, I browsed through some journals, and I have to admit the colorful images, witty sayings, and various designs on the covers caught my eye. However, I didn’t feel compelled enough to add them to my cart.
But as luck would have it, I won a giveaway on Instagram and won a set of journals. They weren’t blank journals but rather ones I’d be given prompts to fill out. I thought, why not? It seemed easier and worth a try. I have anxiety and have suffered from depression in the past and I read how much journaling can sometimes help with both. The stack of journals I won had various subject matters and I immediately decided to give the gratitude journal a go first.
If you’re not familiar with a gratitude journal, it’s a journal that focuses on being grateful and counting your blessings. Studies have shown that practicing gratitude can have a positive affect on so many parts of your life. According to Forbes, “The Three Good Things exercise asks people to write down three things that went well for them each day and to reflect on why each good thing happened. It is a go-to technique in the therapist’s toolkit as it has been shown to increase psychological “flourishing” and lower depressive symptoms.”
And so, I went on my journey of practicing more gratitude and journaling my way through it. The first few exercises were easy and I went with the flow. Each day I filled out 1-2 pages and answered a series of prompts. Some of the prompts were to write down the people in my life that I am grateful for and why. Another prompt was to write down all the devices and technology that make my life easier. It seemed easy enough and I was able to fit it into my busy schedule. I almost enjoyed journaling even.
However, the prompts got deeper and deeper, some asked for me to recall moments from my childhood and people from my past. I wasn’t really prepared for it. Although I think it’s beneficial to count our blessings and to practice being more grateful, it kind of felt like I was practicing toxic positivity in a way. Toxic positivity happens when others down play an emotion or situation by saying things like: it will be okay, keep your head up, don’t worry. All of which forces a lot of us to feel guilty or embarrassed for not getting through or getting over something quickly enough or at all.
As I tried to recall as many positive moments from my childhood as I could, I struggled. A lot of happy moments also collided with not-so-pleasant moments. The good and bad memories weren’t separated into neat and separate piles, but rather bundled together and tangled. I had to step back for a while, because I started to feel like I was being ungrateful for the many blessings in my life. I struggled to shine a light on some of the trauma from my childhood and past.
It’s simple, you cannot spin everything negative that happened to you into a positive. Although a lot of things “worked out” for me eventually down the road, we shouldn’t be forced to applaud our trauma just because it “made us better”. A lot of it sucks. A lot of it has lasting and permanent effects on our lives.
Although I didn’t have the experience I was hoping for with my gratitude journal, I did learn to be thankful for the small and everyday things I take for granted. I also learned that not every journal is the same, and it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. My advice for anyone who wants to journal or try journaling exercises is to take your time when choosing one and find one you enjoy. If it doesn’t feel right, drop it and try another.
I have tried other journaling subject matters and I found that speaking about the present is easier for me. Working towards goals is another one I enjoy as well. It’s not that I don’t have a lot to be grateful for, because I definitely do. It’s just that we all process emotions differently. The idea that jotting down what you’re grateful for, in any situation, sounds great on paper and in theory. But we should also be allowed to say that something was horrible, traumatizing, or painful and let that be the end of it. Being forced to find something positive in every situation is a form or toxic positivity that I didn’t realize a gratitude journal would bring to the surface.