Beyond Gratitude Journaling

Gratitude is a fraught term. I don’t deny the very real benefits of gratitude journaling, but sometimes it’s hard to feel grateful, and rightfully so. It’s not healthy to force yourself to feel any particular way. It’s invalidating, and painful feelings tend to dissipate much more quickly when they’re validated. I don’t know why, but the term “gratitude” seems packed with the heavy emotion of “should.” How many of us feel like we “should” feel grateful for our crappy apartment that costs more than half of our income because so many people have it worse? And indeed, there are lots of people out there who do have it worse, but they too may be feeling guilty for not feeling grateful because someone has it even worse than they do. My point is that realizing where things in your life could be crappier is not a solid foundation for true gratitude. The truth is that most of us have privilege in some areas of our life and absolute crap in others.

The goal of gratitude journaling is to force yourself to focus on the positive. Now that we know about the concept of toxic positivity a lot of people are rebelling against the very idea of the gratitude journal, let alone the idea of forcing yourself to feel happy when you’re just not. Nonetheless, those of us who believe we can take some control over how we feel would like to find alternatives that feel less obligatory than the gratitude journal. Here are three that I have personally found helpful.

Beatitude Journaling

This can have a couple different meanings depending on your own spirituality. If you’re Christian this could look like reflecting on the 8 Beatitudes of Jesus or starting a prayer journal (a potentially beneficial idea for any spiritual or religious person.) In a totally different context I came across the term “beatitude journaling” from the genius witch, Carolyn Lovewell, who created a method of shadow work called Existential Kink. Beatitude journaling is a part of this shadow integration process wherein you write down what you most desire out of life in exquisite sensory detail. Sounds like a manifestation journal, doesn’t it? Usually manifestation journals can be a bit depressing because thinking about the really sweet life you want becomes painful when you realize just how far away you are from it. Beatitude journaling differs from manifestation journaling because the goal is to lean into that very pain. Your job is to notice where you feel resistance to these blessings. Maybe you claim to want to be rich and famous, but when you write the words you notice a knot in your stomach. Pay attention to these feelings because they could be signs that your subconscious mind is afraid of having nice things. From there you can journal to unpack those negative reactions to the positive things that you think you want. Carolyn Lovewell recommends doing The Work of Byron Katie for this purpose.

Book of Mirrors

You’ve probably heard of a book of shadows, a large tome where witches write down their spells and note how well they work. A book of mirrors is another witch’s tool, but it’s primary use is for reflection. In your book of mirrors you will draw, paint, or write the results of your meditation/visionary practice. My book of mirrors is primarily visual with some sparse words to accompany the paintings. It’s also a great place to allow myself to create freely and experiment in a way that I don’t do as much in my regular artistic practice. Dream journals are very similar, but pertain only to your sleeping visions. I think keeping the book of mirrors purely visual is helpful for meditating upon the message of the meditation itself. It helps you process that information in a different, even more right brain kind of way. Good feelings usually follow. Also note that some witches use the terms book of shadows, book of mirrors, alchemical journal, grimoire, and magickal journal interchangeably since these can include all thoughts and processes involved with your spiritual/magickal practice. If you want an absolutely gorgeous leather bound book of mirrors with inlaid crystals, here’s one you can get that looks real similar to mine.

The Cricket Journal

OK, I absolutely made this one up, but it’s a solid concept. By now it’s probably no secret that I think of Franz Schubert as a sort of personal spirit guide (yes, I know how weird that sounds) and I meditate to ask him for advice all the time. In one meditation I asked him what I could do about my own depression. In response I got a song stuck in my head that I hadn’t heard in a long time, “Der Einsame” by, you guessed it, Franz Schubert. It’s a great song, give it a listen, but when a song pops up as the answer to a question in meditation that usually means the lyrics are what’s important. The song is about the comforting company of hearth crickets, and the larger theme is that of spending the hour before bed reflecting on the good parts of the day so you will sleep peacefully. I started a “cricket journal” based off this song where I spend some time before bed just thinking about all the good things that happened that day and write them down in a list. The only way this really differs from a gratitude journal is that the sense of “I should feel grateful” is missing. If you don’t feel good about something, even if you think you should, you don’t write it down. Nonetheless, I’ve written down some things that probably sound pretty sad because there was nothing else good that happened that day, things like “I had enough milk for my coffee. Heck, I had coffee today!” The symbolism of spirit guide as cricket is also not lost on me here, which really makes me giggle. I guess that’s all the proof I need that Schubert is my little Jiminy Cricket! Check out my book called Winter From Above if you want to experience more of these Schubertian meditations.

These are just a few of the many possible ideas for injecting more thoughtful and productive positivity into your life via journaling. I’m a double Leo, so journaling is my life, that shows you just how helpful I find it. Oh, and of course I would be remiss to not mention the concept of Morning Pages from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I tried that for a while, but found it took too much time in the morning, but it’s also a helpful practice for getting all your troubled thoughts out of your brain. I didn’t realize what a rich topic this is for me, so expect more blog posts about journaling from me in the future. I’m hoping that one day I can sell little blank journals in my shop, but I have yet to find a print on demand company that can produce them for a reasonable price. Let me know in the comments if you find one, and let me know what kind of journaling you find to be the most effective for you!

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