The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan

The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life Cover Image

Have you ever wished you’d been more present during moments of your life? Do you regret not appreciating what, and who, you have? Are you constantly stumped about how to be one of those happy people you see in yoga ads? Same.

As with many things Gratitude in my life, my reading of The Gratitude Diaries came after a particularly and unexpectedly stressful period of my life. I’d just gone through an intensive training that, when complete, left me feeling a bit bereft and out of place with the world around me. It was not an dissimilar experience to that of returning from a deployment. I didn’t know how to connect with people anymore, and I got angry over the smallest things.

The worst part about this time is that I joined my dad on a trip to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro with some family friends. I was ecstatic about this trip, even though I only agreed to do it so my dad wouldn’t be on his own (I was worried about him). I lived in Tanzania for some time when I was younger and I looked forward to returning to a country I loved. I also love hiking and camping, so this trip was really right up my alley. In hindsight, it was definitely necessary for my mental recovery, and I wish I had known then what I know now about gratitude.

There were several times during the trip where I felt irrationally angry at my dad. For no reason at all. I was angry if he was too slow. I was angry if he went ahead. I was angry if he wasn’t paying attention. I was angry if he was paying attention. I was just angry. When I got back from the trip, I was so upset with myself for not appreciating the time more, especially since my dad is getting older, and he’d worked hard to be able to go on that trip! I didn’t appreciate any of that at the time. I still cringe thinking about it now, and wish I could go back in time. Unfortunately, a time machine has not been invented. At least not one available to the general public! 😉

I talked to my best friend about what I was feeling, and she recommended I read The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan. As I mentioned in my post on the Z-Card, I always thought gratitude and gratitude journaling was a little hokey. But, since I had already learned the benefits of the Z-Card, I was open to trying The Gratitude Diaries.

Let me tell you, this book spoke to me. Kaplan records the year of her life when she decided to practice active gratitude. Between sharing her personal experiences with this effort, she also talks to professionals and laypeople who have experience with gratitude and its effects. The format is also appealing, as she discusses a different topic in each chapter, including marriage, kids, and friends. You could easily skip around if you wanted to jump to topic you were most interested in, but it’s worth reading the entire book to absorb all the learnings. Kaplan also shares some examples of her gratitude at the beginning of each chapter.

I found the book to be a compelling read, and Kaplan provided several ways to incorporate gratitude into your life. An exercise she focused on was writing three things she was grateful for every day. Well, she worked up to three things. Her list of gratitude differed from what I’d been doing in the Z-Card primarily because it was full sentences. Hah! But also because I challenged myself to also write down why I was grateful. So I didn’t just say “I’m grateful for my friend.” I said, “I’m grateful for my friend because she’s always ready to support me and guide me.”

I incorporated this into my nighttime Z-Card routine for a few weeks to see how it worked for me. It did make me think a little bit harder about my gratitude, and when I’m feeling especially stressed, I will take the time to do this. I found that, in general, I preferred my Z-Card method of bullet points, but this is truly an individual preference. Try both and see what works for you!

Did The Gratitude Diaries erase my guilty feelings about my trip to Kilimanjaro? Unfortunately not. Did it inspire a desire to read Epictetus and study stoicism? Weirdly, yes. Kaplan cites several Epictetus quotes in the book that truly spoke to me. One favorite is this:

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not. Remember that what you have now was once among the things you only hoped for.

That’s what I love about books like this, and my journey into gratitude in general. There is always something that will speak to you; you just have to find it. I challenge you to read this book and find what speaks to you. Something I’ve realized over the years is our society doesn’t teach us to understand and embrace our emotional selves. One of my goals in life is to understand myself better and find what works for me, even if it’s not the normal path. Gratitude is one of those ways. You could say I’m unlearning what we’ve been taught and relearning myself. I’m enjoying the journey so far.

If you want to talk more about gratitude, I’m always here. And check out my bestie’s review of The Gratitude Diaries on her blog, My Week is Booked.