Gratitude Journals

“Please send me a copy of your paper,” I asked with a genuine sense of curiosity. “I really want to read it.”

“Come on Dad,” was the less-than-enthusiastic reply. “You know you’ll just critique it.” 

My youngest daughter Madeline started a Master’s of Divinity program last month. Admittedly, I’m a little excited and find myself vicariously reliving my seminary days through her—asking about the books she’s reading, discussing lectures...and wanting to read her papers.

“I won’t critique it,” I promised. “Just want to see what you’re writing.”  Wink. Wink.

So the paper arrived. Voraciously I began to read her epistle—something about pastoral counseling and the act of listening.Halfway into second page I noticed a couple of lines about a family dinner tradition.

“My father would bring out the ‘Gratitude Journal’ no matter who was at the dinner table.” She then described how everyone was required to share something for which they were grateful. “In my younger years it was boring and awkward,” she confessed. “Especially when we had friends over.” 

Now a 26-year-old graduate student reflecting more deeply on her life, Madeline concluded: “Engaging in the Gratitude Journal made us more attentive, accepting where we were at that moment, and more observant of our thoughts and feelings.” I paused to reread those words. Wait...what?  My rebellious youngest child remembered the Gratitude Journal.

For those who have experienced the blessing (and trials) of raising children, I’m sure you can relate. Despite the demands on our time, financial pressures, aging parents for whom we must care, marriages that need nurturing, and civic commitments requiring our duty—we tried our best, hoped and prayed that a few of the good things we did for our children stuck.  The Gratitude Journal ritual took root! 

I say ritual because the “Journal” found its way to the dinner table regardless of the current circumstances. Gratitude was part of our nightly rhythm. A bad day at school?  We journaled. An argument with my wife about a credit card bill 5 minutes before dinner? We journaled. A tough loss on the soccer pitch? A crisis at UrbanPromise...we stopped, reflected, looked for the good and journaled together.

Robert Emmons, who studies gratitude at UC Davis, makes a similar argument. “And this is what grateful people do. They have learned to transform adversity into opportunity no matter what happens, to see existence itself as a gift.”  The late Catholic theologian Henri Nouwan said it another way, “Gratitude rarely comes without real effort. The more we choose gratitude in the ordinary places of our day, the easier it becomes.” 

Despite the incredible challenges of this historical moment, I still believe there’s an opportunity to “pull out” the “gratitude journal” —especially as we enter this Thanksgiving season.  Let’s choose to discover things for which we can be grateful. In no way am I asking you to sugar coat life. There is real grief, real pain, real disappointment. But let’s push a little deeper and be intentional about seeing the good, pausing and thanking God.

Bruce Main
Founder & President
UrbanPromise