Journaling my way to happiness

Truthfully, I have never been very good about journaling. I always start strong, write for a few consecutive days, and trail off within a week. For me, a journal has always served as a sort of sounding board or outlet to vent about my day or how I was feeling about a current problem, but there had never really been a true intention for my entries. However, that has changed over the last few years.

During the fall of my junior year of college, I helped lead a youth group retreat for first-year students at SMC. During some of our down time between talks and activities, it was common to spend it journaling about the weekend. However, I was a bit stuck. I wasn’t really focused on the retreat I was leading but instead, worrying about things back at school or at home. That whole semester, I had been finding it more and more difficult to remain present in the moment, and too caught up worrying and upset about other aspects of my life. It was very draining. This looming black cloud was following me into my classes, my yoga time, even my precious free time. Stuck, I went to the adult group leader for some guidance.

Anna, our assistant campus ministry director and head of all the campus ministry programming, was the group leader for this retreat. If you don’t know Anna personally, I can tell you she is empathetic and kind, sort of a mother figure for students in this home away from home. When I explained my situation to her, I received some truly wonderful advice. She had said that she had gone through something similar when she was in college and was advised to begin a gratitude journal. In it she would write everything that she was grateful for that day. That way, she was able to look beyond the troubles of the day and see just how many wonderful blessings that she did have. I was intrigued by this sort of intentional journaling and decided to give it a try.

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I decided to give myself parameters for this gratitude journal so that I didn’t get off track like I had been known to do before. First, I bought a new leather bound book for the sole purpose of my gratitude journal and planned to write in it every night before I went to bed. This would serve as a cleansing tool = the blessings and positive aspects of my day would be fresh in my mind before bed as opposed to the things weighing on me that I might otherwise mull over all night. Second, the goal, per Anna’s advice, was to write down a list of everything that I was grateful for that day. She had said that every day might not be wonderful all the way through, but there are always at least five things that we can be grateful for. Then, to build off of this, I gave it one final parameter. I started writing a second list, at least three things that I was praying for that day. These would be my intentions.

I have to say, I absolutely loved the idea of this gratitude journal when Anna first told me about it and I love it even more so now. I am able to end my day on a positive note and feel less weighed down by things that are stressful during the day. I am able to be more present. I also have been finding myself more in touch with my goals since I have been writing them down as intentions. I feel that writing them down gives me accountability so it motivates me to actively work on them, and ultimately be successful in my endeavors. It has also encouraged me to change my perspective and shift my focus away from just thinking about myself. In writing the things that I’m praying for that day, I’m now also thinking of who else might need a prayer and some support in their own endeavors. I love ending my day this way.

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Gratitude journaling has become an important aspect of my before-bed routine and leaves me with a clear, happy, and open mind. What are some of the intentional journals that you keep?

-elise

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Simple is better

Living in the charming state of Vermont, as a stark contrast to growing up in the hustling, high-traffic, and overall more gruff MA, has (gently) forced me to slow down. As proud as I am to identify as a Bostonian (greater Boston area still counts), it has made us as a people more worked up, aggressive, and unobservant of the simple pleasures that life and our earth have to offer. Vermont is so much the opposite that one cannot help but to inhale the crisp clean mountain air, allow the sun’s rays to warm their skin and the cool lake water to tickle their toes. God’s gifts are not taken for granted. Our earth is well tended here, and Vermonters have taught me more simple ways of living. I never really thought myself to be outdoorsy until I fell in love with Vermont’s sweeping mountain views, picturesque lakes and fields beckoning me to explore. I keep plants, eat breakfast outdoors on my balcony listening to the birds, and have considered starting my own fruit/vegetable garden. I find myself more grateful everyday for the bounty our earth has to offer and amazed at its beauty.

Some of my favorite days so far this year have been days spent outside, exploring the shores and craggy cliffs surrounding Lake Champlain. Just this past weekend, a friend of mine visited from MA so of course we had to show off our gorgeous state. A group of nine of us hiked through the woods to find a secluded stretch of beach, complete with a driftwood hideaway and a fire pit. Spending an afternoon tossing a Frisbee in the water, guessing our own and others’ spirit animals, roasting hot dogs and s’mores over the fire, and taking in the sunset was a day not soon to be forgotten.

We took “nothing but pictures, left nothing but footprints, and killed nothing but time”.

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How grateful I am to live in such a beautiful place with such adventurous people.

-elise