On Tracking Good Things

Another resolution for 2013 that I’ve made well on so far has been to track at least one good thing that happens each day. Before turning in each night, I list something joyful, meaningful, or memorable that I experienced since the time I woke up in a notebook beside my bed. My attempts to track good things started in October of last year and since that time I’ve written about things as simple as catching a beautiful winter sunset on my drive home and as rare as visiting with old friends who live on the other side of the country. An exercise in optimism, in finding the joy in the everyday, the simple routine of seeking and documenting positive occurrences from my daily life has already proved invaluable to me.

The purposes served by tracking these good things are as varied as the things themselves. Some days require long and hard consideration before putting pen to paper, days when it feels nearly impossible to come by a positive, memorable occurrence. Other times, succinctly narrowing down the multitude of good brought in a single day proves to be a challenge (and I end up lumping three or four separate items into a single day’s entry). But with either extreme or any scenario that falls in between, transcribing the simple delights of daily life never fails to leave me with a profound sense of gratitude and joy, as well as a fuller sense of self.

Scouring over the minutes and hours of a horrible day for that one glimmer of good is a necessary task that routinely realigns my mindset for the better. It’s certainly a challenge on those days when a dark cloud hangs over my head from the moment I step out of bed in the morning until I lay back down at night. But finding one worthwhile, joyous, or bright piece of even the worst days ensures that I force myself to practice optimism and seek positivity. In vowing to identify the good in my life on a daily basis, the practice of doing so has quickly become rather natural and automatic, not only when I prepare to jot something down in my notebook at night but throughout the whole day.

On those days when I am overcome with goodness, when I decide to jot down three good things because I simply cannot select a single one, I’m filled with a confident contentment that was formerly absent from my life. Insecurity, anxiety, discontent, and lack of perspective used to cloud my worldview, obscuring the fact that I have a full and joyous life. Though my practice of tracking good things is still in it’s infancy, I am already overcome with a grand sense of satiety when reviewing my life these past few months through the contents of my notebook. The things which I value most would be patently clear to anyone who completed even the most cursory review of my pseudo-journal: friendship, family, nature, compassion, generosity, good meals, creativity, living a life of intention. By tracking all of those things which make my days bright, I become more cognizant of the presence of these at-times abstract values in my actions, the importance I place upon them, and the frequency with which I channel them in my life. True, I am often yearning for more adventure and excitement in my subdued life. But this good things journal makes clear not only what I value but how I constantly infuse my life with these things that are most important to me. It makes me patently aware of the fact that I am living the life I want to live.

The very idea of work used to instinctively inspire a negative reaction in me. As the end of the weekend approached, a sense of dread would overcome my mind and body as a result of simply considering my obligation to put in eight hours five days out of the week. Given that I tend to enjoy the opportunity to engage with people throughout the day, it was rarely the work itself that I felt anxious about so much as the abstract idea of having a job, a work commitment, a required time for clocking in, eight hours to spend toiling away. I encounter people in my career as a social worker who are the source of fondly remembered anecdotes, brilliant tidbits of wisdom, stimulating conversation, and vital human connections. Once I allowed myself to count these interactions among my daily good things, I also witnessed a subtle change in my attitude toward work. It is not always easy or rewarding to work with people, but there are just as many times when it feels effortless and not like work at all. By virtue of documenting those work interactions that bring happiness and meaning to my days, I’ve found myself more positive about work overall and better able to appreciate those aspects of my position which are well-suited and fulfilling to me.

While I often welcome new challenges, they can quickly become overwhelming to me if not easy to incorporate into my routine. Tracking good things has been remarkably easy to add to my days as and, for relatively little effort, the payoff has been quite sizable. I find myself considering what I’d like to remember from each day when I’m making the commute home and can’t help feeling delightfully positive when I come across something worth tracking in the first few hours of my day. The good things notebook started primarily as a means of providing necessary reinforcement to my shoddy memory, but has quickly reinforced my senses of optimism and contentment.

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