Busy mum Megan Wood doesn't have time to write about her feelings. But could a class in journalling bring gratitude to her hectic life?
It was a foggy Saturday morning when I wandered down a back lane in Parnell, navigating my way along a narrow path littered with greenery to find a hidden glass door. If someone had led me there blindfolded and at that moment decided to illuminate things, I would have assumed I was standing outside someone's very stylish yet comfortable looking apartment, about to share a cup of tea with friends. In reality I was about to experience a guided session in journalling, based on the belief that by writing down our thoughts we can be more in the moment and less stuck in our heads. My head can be a frantic, terrifying place, reminiscent of a scene from cult 80s film, Labyrinth. So the promise of clarity and a reduction in stress sounded very appealing.
The concept of diarising life events dates back to the written word itself. In the 15th century, Italians used diaries as a form of bookkeeping while Leonardo Da Vinci's legacy included 5000 pages of journal writings.
London in the late 1600s saw Samuel Pepys take to paper to diarise everything from important historical events to spats with his wife. Fast forward to the 1960s and a New York psychologist named Dr Ira Progoff started teaching the concept of journalling as therapy. In 1978 Progoff released At a Journal Workshop , a book covering his methods and processes for therapeutic journalling. Since then, writing down our thoughts has become widely accepted as a beneficial practice. However it hasn't seen a surge in popularity in the early 21st century.
That lack of time and energy modern humans put into our emotional and mental wellness was a key contributor to Brthe opening its doors last month. With a team of "mindful humans", ranging from trained psychologists to yoga instructors and meditation guides, Brthe offers sessions on journalling, as well as mindfulness, meditation and sleep classes.
The session I attended was focused on "gratitude". It was run by two instructors, one who had recently completed a thesis on the subject. "An entire thesis on gratitude!" I hear you scoff. Well, it turns out there's a lot to it. For example, something I'd never considered is how our brains are hard-wired to focus on the negative - it's a survival instinct born from always scanning for danger.
A 2018 study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology explores how regular gratitude journalling can help rewire our brains towards positive thinking. Findings showed that it led people to feel better about their lives, report fewer physical symptoms, spend more time exercising and feel more optimistic.
I was told by our instructor at the beginning of the session that, in an immediate gratification sense, taking a minute to sit down and make a list of all the things you're grateful for that day or week releases serotonin and gives us a lovely warm and fuzzy feeling – but was it true?
Shoes were removed, phones stashed out of sight and cups of tea sipped while everyone got settled. After a brief introduction, we were led through some meditation to get centred and be able to journal from "an authentic place".
Then we were asked to write down the things we were grateful for that week. For me, this ended up being a longer and much happier list than I expected. I had also stopped wondering why someone would go to a class to journal when they could just do it at home. I realised the answer: We don't. We don't take time to stop, reflect and write down what is good about our day. We just tend to grumble, put on our cranky pants and plonk down in front of Netflix.
After one class, during which I took just half an hour to be thankful for star-filled nights, lapdogs and good friends, I felt good. Really good. In this happy state the class wrapped up, smiles were shared, farewells imparted and lives gotten on with. Hopefully the glass-half-full gratitude buzz would last just a little while longer.