I’m a longtme journal-keeper, starting the day with a page or two of what is going on in my life. At the end of each day’s entry, I ask myself three questions. The first two are “What do I hope for today?” And “What am I grateful for today?” The third question come from British author E.B. White, who posed it something like this. “When I get up in the morning, I have to decide whether to enjoy the world or to improve the world. It makes it hard to plan my day.” In the form of a question, as the Jeopardy host would say, ?What do I plan to do (or not do) that will enable me to enjoy and/or improve the world today?” Most days I try to do some of each, but there are some days that are mostly enjoy and some that are mostly improve. Over time, I have seen closer links among the questions because the enjoy/improve questions are grounded in what I hope for and what I am grateful for.
The practice of gratitude journaling has been around for a while. Those not inclined to do prayers of thanks (I’m one of those) find an alternative way of expressing thanks to be an alternative spiritual discipline. There are so many big and little things that make our life more enjoyable that we can be thankful for and so many things we can do to make the world a better place. I have hopes for myself, about being a better person or getting more exercise or losing weight of being more mindful and more present. I have hopes for my friends and children and grandchildren, hopes for my state and my country and the world, hope for peace in Ukraine and slowing down climate change and preserving democracy. Gratitude is tied to enjoy, and hope is improving (or at least not to making things worse). All four of them are part of the mix of who we are and what we do and how that being and doing impacts our life and the lives of others.
Theologian Joanna Macy reminds us that hope has to be active hope, not wishful thinking. She castigates both optimism (all will be for the best in this best of all possible worlds) and pessimism (nothing I do will make any difference) as a failure of hope, which those who read the New Testament may recognized as one of Paul’s cardinal virtues, along with faith and love. It is not enough to sit yon your recliner and think hopeful thoughts, but to find ways to work alone or even better with others to bring them about. Similarly, gratitude means respecting the sources of joy, whether it is a sunny day, flowers, a cat on your lap, or a surprise phone call from an old friend. Gratitude calls us to be kind, attentive, and respectful of the atmosphere, the plants, animals, and other people.
What might it look like as a journal entry? Something like this. Today I plan to enjoy my weekly 4 pm visit with my women friends who largely share my values and attitudes but are enough different to challenge some of them. I also plan to enjoy my exercise class, doing some writing, taking a walk, and making pumpkin bread. I will finish up preparations for my congregational board meeting (I’m the president) and gather the supplies I need for a postcard to minority voters projects to launch after the Sunday service. I will get in touch with an old friend who recently suffered a fall and haul my recyclables to the local recycling center. I will spray my doorways and windowsills with cleaning vinegar to discourage critters from moving in without resorting to poison. The postcards are part of my hope for democracy, the recycling and vinegar reflect my hope for the planet, and my call to my friend rests on the hope that it will cheer her up while she recovers. I am grateful for so many things, but the ones that are reflected in my enjoying and improving are my friends, my faith community, a good recipe for pumpkin bread, and the Botanical Garden in my community where I often walk.
We are what we think and what we do and what we refrain from thinking and doing. Sometimes it helps to commit it to paper.