The One Easy Daily Habit That Makes Life More Awesome

Life happens whether we are mindful of it or not. So start a journal, remember the moments that you never want to forget, and improve, well, just about everything in the process.

Twenty years ago, I picked up what turned out to be a stubborn habit.

During a particularly angsty time in seventh grade, I began writing in a journal every night. I’d record what I’d done that day and my thoughts about it. Over the decades, I filled stacks of notebooks with my musings on life. Then, sometime in 2011, I realized that I was writing so much about my life for my personal blog and elsewhere that journaling on top of that felt draining. I’m always looking for ways to save time, so I put my pens and notebooks away.

But I did keep one concession to the concept. In the late spring of 2012, I created a file on my laptop called "Best Summer Ever." Each day, I’d write down at least one quirky, memorable, or fun thing that happened. Some research backs up the idea that writing down good things can improve your life; Fast Company recently included keeping a gratitude journal in its roundup of 10 Simple Science-Backed Ways to be Happier Today.

I suspect, though, that there are more or less effective ways to keep such a journal. I’m always grateful for my family, my friends, and my health. Writing these things down every day is probably nice . . . but it gets old soon. The idea behind my Best Summer Ever list is that I wanted specific evidence—evidence that would conjure up detailed memories—that I had an awesome life.

Sure enough, as I started gathering data every day on why I was having my best summer ever, 2012 did indeed shape up to be the best summer of my life (so far!). Matt Lauer interviewed me on the Today Show. I was the judge in a pie-baking contest, which meant I had to sample an almost obscene number of competitively baked pies. On one memorable day in August, I was there with my three kids when the gates opened in the morning at Legoland California, and we pretty much closed that park down at night. I look back on that document of awesomeness, and I go: "Wow."

So I kept a similar list this summer. The highs have not been as high, but still, looking at a random day and remembering that I went for a bike ride, a trail run, and a swim (a "tri" day!) makes me pretty happy. And this is the more important takeaway: If I’m having a kind of blah day, I am forced to sit there and think, What would I want to write down on my list? I need to think of something, and so I conjure up a way to create a happy memory. Even something as simple as concocting the world’s best milk shake from the lemon gelato a party guest left in our freezer and some fresh strawberries and blueberries can be enough to rescue a day.

Pursuing pleasure is a worthy goal. Life happens whether we are mindful of it or not, and being mindful of the quirky, the fun, and the meaningful makes these things stand out more in the mosaic of one’s time. We see what we’re looking for and, as I’m reminded every day, writing things down can help us see.

[Image: Flickr user Walt Stoneburner]

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  • Lori Favela

    I've always journal now. It's just something I always do now and forever.

  • Steven Williamson

    Cheers for your idea Laura. I have now started a file on my tablet called My Life is Awesome where I will write at least one awesome thing about my day. So one day when i' not feeling Awesome I will reflect on this list.

  • Andrea Chilcote

    Thank you for sharing your experience with mindfulness,
    Laura. Something as simple as jotting down a couple of lines each day can make
    all the difference in our wellbeing. I love this line from your piece,
    especially, “being mindful of the quirky, the fun, and the meaningful makes these
    things stand out more in the mosaic of one’s time.” It couldn’t be more true.
    –Andrea Chilcote, CEO of Morningstar Venture and author of Erik’s Hope

  • Lloyd Lemons

    Is it ever wise, or useful to write down the negative stuff? Should we only record life as if looking through rose-colored glasses? 

  • I agree, objectively documenting your life so you can reflect is a powerful learning tool to help you grow into a more balanced individual. However, I suspect that is not the goal or purpose of this exercise. I suspect rather that the author uses the journal in low points to gain perspective that this, too, shall pass.

  • Dawn Herring

    I love how you created a specific purpose for your journal entries to keep it relevant and fun, and how, by doing so, you even found ways to make your daily life experience more interesting and fun too. That shows the power of journaling and creating deliberate, positive change in your life. 

    I have chosen your article, The One Easy Daily Habit That Makes Life More Awesome, for #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 8/26/13 for all things journaling onTwitter;I will share your article on the social networks, on my blog and website, Refresh with Dawn Herring, and in my weekly Refresh Journal:#JournalChat Live is every Thursday, 5 EST/2 PST, on Twitter; our topic this week is Your Journaling: List Love. I appreciate the inside view you provided of your journaling life and the difference it has made in your life experience. Be refreshed,Dawn Herring

  • Faith Watson

    Dawn, I'm so glad I stumbled on to your comment here. Thanks for all the info., I'll be looking for you online--you'll see me from Looking forward to it!

  • Michael Feeley

    Great! I love the energy of your writing and the way you write about yourself. YES! Gratitude journals are excellent tools for enhancing your SELF in many ways. Thank for your writing.

  • elizabeth w

     laura - i completely agree!  i started daily journaling in spring of 1998 and now have boxes full of my randomness.  recently i've started every morning with "5 things i'm thankful for". been an encouraging start to me day. :)

  • Kristen Hayes Kuse

    This is a great idea!  It's good to focus on the positive rather than the negative.  

  • Jerry33

    Gratitude is an attitude worth conjuring and maintaining; it inspires one to share with others to boot and in doing so creates more happiness.

  • BruceTheBlog

    Very nice piece. Good habit to form. As saying goes, "If it's not on paper, it turns to vapor." On a technical note, allow Grammar Geek this musing: "conjure up" is redundant. State of grammar being what it is, most times that prepositions are added to verbs nowadays, they are a superfluous crutch because the verb already achieves what preposition overstates (eg, cap off, seek out, etc.). Our language usage could use a personal trainer; it is getting flabbier by the syllable.

  • Samuel

    Use the Happier app for writing one/two or three (or more) happy thoughts per day! It's awesome

  • Ehughes

    Thank you for sharing this idea! I am going to do this for my personal and professional life!

  • Macm

    Great reflection,  What you discovered around needing to keep your gratitude journal fresh is consistent with the research.  Barbara Fredrickson in her book, Positivity cites research that shows gratitude journals do work to improve our "positivity" which is shown to increase our resilience.  However, she noted that the research shows that they may be more effective if done a few days a week rather than every day.  Your approach seems like a terrific was to keep it fresh.  Thanks for the insight.

  • Lvanderkam

     @MACM - thanks for your note. Yes, I found that trying to keep it fresh was key. Just writing down what I'm grateful for runs the risk of it being the same thing all the time. I'm always grateful for my kids, but two days ago, I was particularly stoked to share a blueberry and banana milkshake with my 3-year-old. Much more specific.