A few weeks ago I found myself re-reading my copy of The Nordic Guide to Living 10 Years Longer, by Bertil Marklund. I got through it in a matter of a few hours. It is about as succinct and compact a self-help book as you will find, with practical strategies and behavioural changes that will likely add a few good years to your life.
In some ways the book is pretty basic and common sense. But, for me anyhow, with this sort of thing I do better with a cut-to-the-chase approach than books that string out “the point” into an unnecessary number of pages. Plus the author, a Swedish medical doctor and researcher, backs everything up with research and references… which helps motivation to do those things we may know as “common sense” yet don’t do.
Most of the 10 brief chapters are devoted to ways to affect your physical health (e.g., sleep, sunlight, diet, exercise, to name a few, oh and coffee & red wine yee-hah) but the final one is about attitude, and optimism. And regardless of where one sits on the optimist-pessimist spectrum, it is possible to cultivate optimism through intentional behaviours.
“Acknowledge what is meaningful in your life and embrace everything around you that is good,” writes Marklund, “ express gratitude and joy for the big things and the small.”
Now, we’ve all heard a lot about gratitude. And probably you have made attempts to notice and acknowledge things in your life to be grateful for. I know I have, especially during this weird COVID era we are in. I try to think about it regularly, though sometimes get sidetracked. I try to express it to others when there is opportunity to do so. But something I haven’t tried much is actually writing it down.
So I set out to start a gratitude journal. I know, I know, it sounds a bit “Oprah” but I wanted to see if it felt different to express gratitude in writing. Before turning in at night I just take a minute to look back and think what am I thankful for about this day—and there’s often many things, so I just pick a couple and spell them out. It’s just a random mish-mash of things; the pages fill more readily than you might expect.
In addition to the daily life pages that are accumulating, at the back of the journal I’ve started dedicating pages to people—including even some whom I might say have done me wrong in some way—and there’s gratitude to be found there too.
What I want to tell you, now a few weeks in to this experiment, is yes it does feel different to express gratitude in writing. I don’t know if it is the physical act of writing, the permanence of it, or what, but it makes it more real. And the feeling of gratitude stays with me; it’s less fleeting than when I think it or even say it. And even without rereading what I have written, with each page that fills I feel a smile inside and out. Give it go and see what your experience is.
An interesting side-note: I was looking for a notebook to use for this gratitude journal and I came across a hardcover book full of blank pages. On the cover was “Gæstebog”, Danish for Guest Book. It was given to me years ago after buying a first home by someone in the Danish half of my family but never used. I thought it would be nice to honour by finally using in some way. And how appropriate to use such a book for gratitude, as after all we are all guests on this earth and in this life. Good guests are gracious and thankful for their stay.
Related post: The easiest and least expensive upgrade is gratitude.