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A Gratitude Year Rewired My Noodle

01/11/2017 07:53 EST | Updated 02/06/2017 03:41 EST

I'll be honest ... I wasn't sure I would do it.

The concept was simple. Every night, write down something -- anything -- that I was grateful for that day, fold it and pop it into a glass jar. For 365 days.

thank you note

(Photo: Goir via Getty Images)

Ever since Oprah first shared the concept of a gratitude journal on her show years ago, I knew there was something to this whole "living in gratitude" thing. And so every few years and with the best of intentions, I buy a journal and write down five things I am grateful for before going to bed... and within a week, the journal is shelved and I go on with my life.

But last year, when I saw a post about it on Elizabeth Gilbert's Facebook page (Eat Pray Love author and goddess), I was determined to try again for 2016. However, I know myself. And the only way I was really going to do it was to make the process easy, fun and pretty.

What happened was, well, transformational.

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I bought a nice Sharpie and colourful paper that I cut into rectangles. I took a big glass jar leftover from our wedding that I put on the dresser. My plan was to write down AT LEAST one thing every night before bed, finding the blessings even if the day was shitty. My first entries:

I am grateful to have survived 2015.

There, that was easy.

I am grateful that Starbucks now has coconut milk!

For a girl with a dairy allergy, this meant I could have a chai latte for the first time in years.

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And then I had some big moments like bathing an elephant on my 40th birthday in Bali.

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Or finally seeing my favourite band (Pearl Jam) up close and personal after 20+ years of missed opportunities. This kind of gratitude is easy.

But then, as we all do, I had some crappy days where a pity party was calling my name. And I had to dig deep.

I'm grateful for the heating pad, extra-strength Advil and stretchy pants.

Wicked menstrual cramps.

I'm grateful for my husband listening to me vent about (name withheld) who was an ass today. I feel better now.

Venom over this jerk turned to sweetness and tolerance once I went to gratitude about having my beloved's support.

Very soon into the process, I started to notice that once I shifted my thoughts to being grateful and then wrote them down (this is key to imprinting insights into your psyche), that I would see the blessing in EVERYTHING. Including actually stopping to smell roses at a city intersection one day. How very Hallmark!

Living in gratitude – even for only a few moments a day – can actually change your brain.

And it became clear that by doing this practice before bed, I was in fact letting my soul marinate in gratitude throughout the night. The days were better. I became less fazed by things. When faced with a challenge, it was a game to me to think, "Ah, there is a lesson here. This is tough, dude, but find the blessing."

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Soon I was dumping the jar of papers -- that began to look like colourful butterflies -- into a basket every few weeks to make room for more. It's become easy to add three to five little papers to the jar now, because I soon learned that one interaction/situation/incident can breed multiple things to be grateful for. This is known as a gratitude spiral, and it's a blissful state to be in.

I'm grateful I had time to meet my friend for dinner today.

I'm grateful for the words of wisdom she bestowed on me.

I'm grateful for my Reiki training so I could offer her some energy insight for her headache.

I'm grateful for the disposable income I have to be able to buy extra wine for us.

There are numerous clinical studies showing that living in gratitude -- even for only a few moments a day -- can actually change your brain. Anecdotally, I can tell you that it made me happier, more able to manage stress, decreased victim mentality and simply made me smile more. Check out writers like Dr. Joe Dispenza, Gregg Braden, and Deepak Chopra for the science-y stuff behind it.

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And so as 2016 has ended, I sit here with all of the papers dumped out in front of me. With a glass of wine, I'm reading each and every one of them, remembering, laughing, crying and savouring those moments of gratitude. This simple nightly practice changed me; it re-wired my noodle and my entire being in general. Will you rise to your better self and try it with me in 2017?

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