Mark Fielding explains how starting a gratitude journal helped him and how it can help other working dads at home and at work
Our children wouldn’t be able to see their friends, visit grandparents, borrow books from the library or eat ice-cream in the street? School would be… the living room? Hold on… how did I sign up for 2021? I really should read the small print!
Of course none of us signed up for it. But it’s a reality (an ugly dystopian one, but a reality) we are all in. And as an environment for raising our children during the most important brain development stages of their lives, it is far from ideal.
To combat the enormous scope for negative thoughts and behaviours such a powerful lack of harmony can create, our family has been keeping a daily gratitude journal for the past 335 days. (Nothing major. It takes three minutes and we write it on a blackboard on the kitchen wall). Not only has it revolutionised the way we perceive the world, boosted our daughter’s self-esteem, grown our mindset, raised our positivity and created an extra moment of magic to our morning routine, it produced a very interesting and practical career side-effect.
By now we all know about dopamine and serotonin – the two hormones responsible for orchestrating our emotions – and how gratitude can re-wire our brain, alter our neurotransmitters and build new constructs around these chemical shifts. We have listened to podcasts, read about CEO’s, thought leaders and icons of the modern world attributing their success and clarity of thought to gratitude. We know it will make us better fathers, more conscientious husbands and partners. But what about that side-effect?
Can I just paint a quick analogy? I want you to imagine an old water mill. It looks nice against that Peak District, geography field trip landscape, but the waterwheel isn’t turning. Fixed solid from years of neglect, it’s lost its capacity to spin. It still works, or at least it would, with a little input. The first paddle fills with water. The hub creaks. It likes it and turns. The second paddle fills. Momentum and Energy build. The waterwheel spins quicker and quicker, the infrastructure inside the mill whirls with promise and determination… and ideas float to the surface.
Those ideas are the side-effect I am talking of. Having to actively think about what you are grateful for, on a daily basis, brings the important facets of work life – the soft skills, hard skills and beliefs – you actually care about, bubbling to the surface. They gather in number and increase in power. Your cognitive waterwheel starts spinning and you begin to get more clarity on what you want out of your career.
After initially scaring the living daylights out of yourself, examining your thoughts every morning causes what you really enjoy about your job to percolate. Whilst your children are telling you how happy they are about cake and Mummy and fairies, you start examining what makes you tick: teamwork, negotiation, accounts, meetings, hiring, firing, leading, following, freelance, contract, communication, responsibility. As you build a framework of what brings you enjoyment at work, you start to see, perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t.
Start a daily gratitude journal and as the year progresses, subtract the things you dislike, which weigh you down and curtail your happiness at work, and add the things your daily practice tells you you should.
For me personally it was the freedom of being self-employed. I know that sounds counter intuitive from behind the closed doors of lockdown, but that was the overriding arc of my gratitude practice. I wanted to write and I wanted the freedom of freelance work from which to do it.
My wife has just started re-training as a musical therapist, a direct result of the revelations of her daily gratitude journal and the deep thinking it created.
Give it a go. Add a gratitude practice to your growing repertoire of mindset tools and see what you can add or subtract. And if you are completely at ease with your career, add it anyway. It’s fun and your kids will thank you for it. Well, they won’t, kids don’t thank you for anything. But you’ll be grateful you did.
Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash