Years ago, I came across a book which claimed that keeping a journal of things for which you are grateful is shown to be one of the most reliable methods that anyone can use to increase their overall sense of satisfaction with life.
Which is pretty remarkable. Because it means that paying attention to the good stuff that already exists in your life is probably enough to help you feel consistently happier and more satisfied.
So why don’t more of us do it?
Why isn’t gratitude journaling a mandatory practice for every school kid? Why don’t preachers implore congregations to do 5 minutes of gratitude journaling before their nightly prayers? Why aren’t presidential candidates making gratitude journaling a cornerstone of their political platform?
I can’t speak for the rest, but I can speak for myself — because I have tried and failed to keep a gratitude journal ever since first coming across this research.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for gratitude. And I love the idea of gratitude journaling.
But, like, keeping a list of things for which I am grateful?
That sounds about as riveting as making a daily shopping list. I mean, how many times per week can you say that you are thankful for your girlfriend’s pet French Bulldog before it becomes just another box you check off without thinking about, let alone actually appreciating?
Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine actually cites some holes like this in the research — namely, that gratitude journaling isn’t as effective when you just make a list of things you’re grateful for. You have to go deeper. You can’t automate gratitude. It is a practice in mindfully paying attention to the things for which you are grateful.
And just listing them on paper isn’t enough.
(Just like how raw word-count goals won’t make you a better, or happier, writer.)
So in its place, I want propose a new solution to gratitude journaling:
Keeping a compliments journal.
What is a Compliments Journal?
I was first introduced to the idea of a compliments journal from a friend and former writing client whom I’ll call Joleen. Everything I knew of Joleen was that she was a rock-solid bastion of personal confidence and professional ability as a sales manager. Until she admitted to me one day that she kept a secret folder of compliments on her computer — consisting of digital artifacts like screenshots from her iMessage conversations with friends, notes from peers, and other kind things — that she looks at when she’s feeling particularly empty, down on herself, or ungrateful for the life she’s living.
Joleen’s compliments journal is a sort of digital scrapbook that she can reference when she needs to remember she’s loved, cared for, respected, appreciated.
And it helps Joleen feel grateful.
Because she’s not just listing things she’s grateful for.
Witnessing people’s words makes her feel it. Their words are evidence for their gratitude for her.
My friend Ellen Ercolini also recommends keeping a compliments journal as a powerful personal resource for coaches and professionals who need an occasional boost of confidence to keep putting themselves out there, trying new things, risking failure and growing on their paths of development.
Unlike Joleen’s digital folder, Ellen’s compliments journal is a physical book solely dedicated to writing down the compliments that others have given her.
What I love about a compliments journal is that the practice obliges you to recognize, accept, and receive what has been offered to you by others. So the effect is really two-fold: You mindfully pay attention to more of the things that make you feel good, confident, happy, strong, and for which you’re grateful, all while recognizing that you are someone for whom others around you are grateful.
It’s gratitude journaling times two.
How to Keep a Compliments Journal
Start simply. You might begin by…
- Creating a running Google Doc, or a whole folder on Google Drive, as a digital journal
- Designating a whole notebook or journal as a place to track compliments
- Using Evernote Premium (affil*) to capture photos and digital mementos in your day to day (like I do)
Following Joleen’s and Ellen’s lead, over the last few weeks I’ve challenged myself to start my own compliments journal. I created a new Notebook in Evernote (where I do most of my word processing across multiple platforms and cloud-based backup) and have slowly started to make special notes when I receive a compliment from a reader, client, friend or peer.
I screenshot the text thread or the email and insert it into a new Note.
That’s it. Compliment documented!
However, there’s another layer of depth you can apply to your compliments journal — hat tip to my writing assistant Lauren for sparking this great idea.
Try pairing the compliment with light reflection on the compliment you’re receiving, why you’re receiving it, and how it makes you feel:
- Ask yourself, what did I do to deserve this compliment? What are the events that literally unfolded to cause it? What happened emotionally for it to be expressed to me?
- Do I feel deserving of it? Or does some part of me resist receiving it? Why or why not?
- What challenges or resistance did I face in the past to gain the skill, wherewithal or competency that evoked the compliment I’m receiving?
- What does it feel like for this person to express their gratitude, kindness and love to me? Why am I grateful for it, him/her?
When you turn a compliment into an act of contemplation, it unpacks a simple act like “gratitude journaling” and evolves the process into a reflective and personal experience.
Why Compliments Journaling Matters
Let’s be real. Most of us find it uncomfortable to receive a compliment.
It’s ingrained in us to shut out, disregard, or outright refuse kind words and compliments that are offered to us. We’re told that it’s humble to not accept someone else’s gratitude: when we’re thanked, we say “No problem,” or “Don’t mention it,” and not “You’re welcome.”
This isn’t humility.
This is refusing to feel worthy and deserving of other’s love, offerings and gratitude.
This is shame, embodied.
It’s the subversive art of self-consciously minimizing the Self.
There’s nothing wrong with embracing others’ love. In fact, if you can’t receive it from others, you’ll be challenged to truly offer it to those around you.
So if it sounds self-indulgent, or outright arrogant, to keep a journal of compliments you’ve received?
I want to respectfully push back.
Keeping a compliments journal is a practice that ingrains receiving and feeling worthy and deserving of others’ words and offerings. Which makes it a selfless practice. Because receiving compliments is a way to appreciate and honor the people who are offering them.
At the very least, receiving compliments in gratitude is a personal practice in mindfully feeling appreciative of others, and appreciative of yourself.
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