Straight and Curly Episode 1: Gratitude Diaries


Remember that podcast I was launching with my amazing friend Carly Jacobs from Smaggle? The one that’s for self-improvement junkies where we road test one self-improvement/productivity type ‘thing’ each week and share our findings?

Well the first episode is now live and we jump straight into Gratitude Diaries. Mainly because we’ve both failed epically with gratitude diaries in the past and we’re trying to figure out where we’re going wrong! So come listen in and then let us know if you’ve had great success with gratitude and if you have any tips for helping people get the most out of them!


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Read the transcript

Welcome to Straight and Curly, a podcast for self-improvement junkies.

Kelly Exeter: I’m Kelly Exeter.

Carly Jacobs: And I’m Carly Jacobs.

Carly Jacobs: Hi everyone and welcome to Straight and Curly. This is the first episode of our podcast. Today, we’re actually going to be talking about gratitude journals. As we said in Episode 0, I’m not terribly woo-woo about my self-improvement stuff. I like everything to be peer review journal kind of stuff. So gratitude journals, I’ve tried a few times and I’ve had a little bit of a struggle with them. So we wanted to just talk about our experiences with using gratitude journals, whether or not they work and whether or not we think they’re a waste of time.

Kelly Exeter: I’m interestingly the same as Carly in that I have tried gratitude journaling at least on three separate new occasions and I have just failed every single time and it’s quite frustrating to me because I AM a bit woo in my self-improvement. Countless studies have shown that they help. And anything that studies are on board with, I’m on board with. But yeah, I’ve given them a really red hot go. It’s not like I tried for two days and then given up. I’ve actually done it for months and yeah, recorded no perceived increase in my happiness or even my gratitude to be honest.

Carly Jacobs: Yeah, I had a similar experience. My business partner Chrissie from, we do a little blog together. She started a gratitude journal together like when we were in Bali last year and she started a few weeks before Bali and she’s still doing it now. And she loves it and thinks it’s fantastic and every time I hang out with her, because we spend a lot of time together. We’d be doing a workshop in Brisbane or whatever and we’ll go to bed and she’ll be like doing her gratitude journal and I’m like, “How are you still doing it?” Like every time, I’ve gone to do it, it just hasn’t lasted very long at all. I get bored of it. So one of the main issues I have with gratitude journals is that I actually am just an incredibly grateful person already. So that’s something that I struggle with hugely because I’m a privileged middle class woman living in Australia. I have food and money and all the things that you want. Like I would love a yacht obviously and a pony but day to day, I get up in the morning, I make my venti coffee and I can buy some nice shoes and stuff. My life’s freaking great. I know that it’s great. And I’m very aware of that.

Kelly Exeter:  It’s a bit like yeah, what’s not to be grateful for?

Carly Jacobs: Yes, exactly. Exactly. And I’m just so aware of all the stuff that goes on in the world and I’ve done lots of travel. I went to India with World Vision in 2011 and I’ve been grateful everyday since that day. So I just feel like writing down that “I’m grateful for my family. I’m grateful for food on my table.” It just kind of feels like well duh. Do you know what I mean?

Kelly Exeter: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m exactly the same. So whenever I do the gratitude journaling, it feels very trite and obvious to me. I think there’s a couple of reasons for that. One, I think it’s the experience. So I’m  bit the same as you in that I’ve led a very privileged life. And I’m hyper aware of that privilege to start with. And gratitude journaling kind of almost makes me even more hyper aware of that privilege and I don’t really know how to process that awareness yet. It’s still something I’m working on but also, as though that I’ve lived a privileged life, it’s not being an entirely charmed life and I’ve experienced challenges, mental and physical health challenges. And I almost wonder if, so I’m 38 now. I think like once you’ve experienced fairly major challenges in life and one fairly major challenge experience was that I wanted the world to be a better place without me in it. So that’s pretty much as low as you can go.

Carly Jacobs: Yeah, definitely.

Kelly Exeter: So I think I am just naturally, now that I’m in a much better place mentally. I think my default setting is I’m super grateful for everything that is good in my life as a rule. Like I literally wake up in the morning and I’m just happy to be here. I go for a run. I’m happy to have my health and my physical fitness to be able to go for a run. I have a coffee and I’m hugely, ridiculously in love with my coffee machine and the fact that we have money to buy coffee to put in it. So I kinda feel like that’s my default setting anyway. So when I go to actually write this stuff in a journal, yeah, it just feels…and yeah, I feel a bit the same as you as I end up writing the same things. I’m grateful for my family, my health. I’m grateful for my partner. I’m grateful for my kids. And round and round we go.

Carly Jacobs: Yeah, exactly. Well, I come at it from a sort of similar but not entirely similar point of view in that I actually have like quite a charmed life. I’m touching all the wood right now because every time I feel that, it totally freaks me out. Up until last year, I had all four of my grandparents and so I left to sort of like the first person in my family. Only last year, and I’m 32, and we haven’t left anyone else in our family. I have never had a very close friend of mine die. I’ve been in perfect health for my entire life. I know lots of people who have struggled with anxiety disorders and depression and it looked rubbish. Like it looks like absolute hell.

Kelly Exeter: It is rubbish.

Carly Jacobs: It’s awful. It’s just horrible. I used to work with them. I used to be a teacher of children with special needs so I spent 10 years working in classrooms with kids who had cerebral palsy or cystic fibrosis and who couldn’t walk and kids with like muscular dystrophy, which is just like the most horrific thing. It’s just horrible. So you spend all this time with these kids and I spend all day with these gorgeous boy whose body was just slowly rushing around him. But it got to the point where he was slowly not able to play basketball and then he got to the point where he couldn’t talk and you only need to spend one day with a kid like that before you’re like, wow, I’m a total chomp for complaining about having to go to the gym. So it’s all that kind of stuff and because I am so privileged but I have experienced a lot of, I’ve observed a lot of hardship in the world, so I am obviously a very naturally grateful person particularly because I haven’t experienced any of that myself. I’m sitting in this like, lucky little box thing like holy shit! Like I am the luckiest person in the world.

Kelly Exeter: And I think it’s incredible the fact that… because a lot of people in your situation wouldn’t actually recognize it for that. They would probably just be, this is just how life is and then if something happens, it would come as a real shock. So I think you’re kind of at least very, very aware and grateful naturally as you said, naturally grateful for these amazing things. I also think that I reckon, this is my theory, it’s not supported by anything, I will throw out lots of these things over the course of this podcast but my theory is that we turn to gratitude possibly in the same way we might turn to religion in that when things aren’t going that well, that’s when we kind of maybe need to turn to gratitude and change to that kind of journaling thing. But having said that, I do wonder how you 8:37at this. When you’re not having a great time, I just wonder how you 8:42 to kind of count your blessing because I’ve tried that in the past. And I have to be honest, it hasn’t really helped.

Carly Jacobs: Oh actually, I think it does help a little bit. So even though I’ve said that I haven’t really had a lot of success with gratitude journals over the course of my life,quite recently, one of my blogging buddies sent me a really beautiful gift that was a gratitude journal from 9:04 I’m like oh my God! I just like it. I totally have 9:07 every time I say something it could be 9:09 it’s amazing. So it came to I got this little box if I can match it with a little pen and everything and I was like sweet, I’m going to start gratitude journaling. And my partner and I ended up actually currently sharing this gratitude journal so I write down what I’m grateful for at night and then he writes it down and I had a bit of an incident last Friday night.

I’m not going into too many details but I was in a play. I was actually very well prepared for it and I had a lot of lines to learn in a very small amount of time. And then on the Friday night performance, a whole mess of things went wrong and I went out on the stage, my props weren’t where they were supposed to be. And no one had really been taking that performance very seriously and I was under an enormous amount of pressure and I went on stage and I said two lines and then I booked it out of there. I was like see yah! I totally just froze and I just walked out back of the theater and I was in the play with my best mate. We have a theater company together. And she walk up after me and I was just like I can’t do it, can’t do it, not doing it, can’t do it. So I didn’t do the show on Friday night because my brain broke. I was fine by Saturday and it was all good but I did some gratitude journaling on the Saturday morning because I have this horrific period of time where I had screwed up the night before and the only way to fix that was to do the thing that I screwed up again perfectly in the afternoon. So I have this whole morning where I was just crying like once every hour and trying to figure out how I was going to get through this. And I was like oh I’m going to write this in my gratitude journal and I think some of the things I wrote was that I was really grateful to have an opportunity to have a hard experience that was actually going to make me a stronger person. And I know that sounds wishy-washy blah blah blah. But it actually really helped and it made me feel a lot better about doing this horrifically scary thing in the afternoon and getting back on the hole I fell off from. Because these are actually the moments that define you and make you a better person and by writing that down and acknowledging it, it actually helped.

Kelly Exeter: That’s really interesting. I did a bit of research when I knew that we were going to be talking about this in the podcast because I’m like what is wrong with me? That gratitude journaling does not work for me. I am the type of person gratitude journaling should work for.

Carly Jacobs: It should work for you. It shouldn’t work for me out of the two of us.

Kelly Exeter: Yeah, exactly. So I did a bit of research and I did find that your studies go both ways so they find that it either worked really, really well or they don’t. And so this professor Robert Emmons, he’s a professor at the University of California. He has shared some research-based tips for actually getting the most out of your gratitude journal and what I’ve really loved is the fact that he’s gone, you don’t have to write in it every day. And I actually found that people who wrote in it once a week for six weeks in a study that they did, found those people had a greater happiness boost from their journal than the people who wrote in it three times a week.

Carly Jacobs: That’s awesome!

Kelly Exeter: That’s interesting to know.

Carly Jacobs: I think that actually comes back to the problem that we were having before when you write it on the same sheet because if you write in a thankful journal everyday and nothing particularly amazing happened that day, you’re just going to default to “I’m thankful for my partner. I’m thankful for my family.” And I guess if you only do it every three days then something awesome might happen that you can write instead of the general “I’m happy for my health.”

Kelly Exeter: Yeah, what they actually said in this research and what I found is the fact, and this is a bit the whole “don’t overdo it, don’t write every single day” kind of thing comes from is that we adapt to positive events very quickly especially if we constantly focus on them. And we know this to be true that if you’re doing something everyday and seeing something everyday, it soon becomes part of the furniture and I guess that’s the problem is you don’t really want gratitude to become part of the furniture because then it’s going to lose it to face. So that’s why they reckon writing occasionally is much more beneficial than writing every single day. The other thing they have suggested is going for something, elaborating in detail about a particular thing you’re grateful for rather than… I know a lot of the gratitude journaling thing to say, must write down five things that you’re grateful for today. And it’s like you might write that I’m grateful for my coffee at home and I’m grateful for grapes for being in season because I love grapes. And then by the time you get to the four and five, you’re just phoning it.

Carly Jacobs: Yeah, exactly just like I’m grateful for like I don’t know sunshine or some bullshit.

Kelly Exeter: And then that’s when you reduce to going through the motions and that’s when your happiness journal or your gratitude journal is not going to be doing it for you.

Carly Jacobs: I think it would be really interesting for the scientists that are doing the studies on this to have a look at the attitude of the people that they’re testing because quite recently, I did an experiment with Jamberry nailwraps, because everyone was like shitting themselves over them and they were like “Oh my god! They’re the most amazing thing that’s ever happened.” And I’m like guys what is it? Like 2009? So I bought Jamberry nail wraps and six other types of nail wraps and tested them all and I was actually really keen for Jamberry to fail. I don’t really know why. Everyone really likes them and they might be shit. It turns out they’re actually not and I quite like them and they’re good. They’re not necessarily the best nail wraps in the history of the world but they are quite good and they come in really awesome colors and everything and it was really great.

Kelly Exeter: So what you’re actually saying is they actually lived up to their hype.

Carly Jacobs: I wouldn’t quite go that far but it’s fun and it’s like a cool fun thing that you can do and I quite like it. But when I was testing the Jamberry, I was actually with Christina Butcher from Hair Romance because we were doing our course that weekend and I was putting my Jamberry’s on that you can do lots of different four manicures or something with one set of gems. She just goes, Oh I’ll do it too. And they didn’t work as well for her as they did for me because she had a really bad attitude. So she was sitting there putting it on and you have to blast them with a hairdryer to melt the glue so it sticks on. So it’s a little bit feebly and she wasn’t having a bar of it. She was so grumpy. And we were sitting around drinking wine and cheese and she was trying to eat her cheese and have a glass of wine while she’s putting these gems. and she was like “I hate these things.” And the whole thing was I had a really positive attitude about it and she had a really shitty attitude and so she hates them now because she wasn’t in a good place when she was putting it on. And I think that applies quite well to gratitude journals because if you are actually wanting to increase the level of gratitude in your life and you have a positive attitude about keeping a journal, you’re going to end up with better results than if you’re trying to improve your mood and some woo doctor was like, why don’t you try gratitude journal and you’re like “I don’t want to do a gratitude journal.”

Kelly Exeter: Yeah, definitely. Or if you approach it in the way I approach gratitude journaling which is Oh my god, I’ve tried this twice already. It did not work. This stuff is not for me. I’m just going to give it a go because everyone who’s like me really gets to love these things. But I have to accept that gratitude journaling in the kind of generally prescribed way, doesn’t work for me but…

Carly Jacobs: It also sounds like you’re peer pressuring yourself into doing it. You’re like “Oh I have to do gratitude journaling because all the cool kids are doing it.”

Kelly Exeter: Like I said, everyone who’s like me gets heaps out of this or my unwitting life coaches like Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Gilbert, they’re into gratitude. All these people say it works, it should work for me. But I guess ultimately, what it comes down to is maybe I’m already content. Maybe I’m too content.

Carly Jacobs: Yeah, too grateful and too aware.

Kelly Exeter: Yeah, that I don’t need it but I’ve said gratitude journaling doesn’t work for me. You’ve kind of say it doesn’t really do the job for you. So I have come up with a flip on gratitude journaling. Not a flip, just an alternative to it that I reckon my work and I’m going to give it a go for the next couple of months and I’m going to write down three things each day. So each day and again may not be each day because let’s not put too much pressure on yourself because the studies say not to put too much pressure on yourself. Each day, I’m going to write down one thing that kind of surprised me from that day and I’m going to note a piece of kindness that I experienced from that day. And you have a kind of a piece of kindness, note down a piece of kindness on steroids take on that, don’t you?

Carly Jacobs: Yeah, I was actually thinking that it might be a good idea for our readers particularly if you ask and you struggle with it with a gratitude journal. Because I found every time I do gratitude journals, I’m generally like I’m really grateful for this friend, for this particular reason or I’m grateful for my partner for this particular reason. And I’m like why don’t I just text them and tell them that I’m grateful for them. Because I just think it’s stupid like writing it down in a book and then closing it and being like you will never know how much I love you. I think it’s a lovely idea that if you have a friend that you get to the end of the day and you think, you know what, that person  is ace. Just sen them a text and be like “Hey, you know that awesome thing you did for me, I really appreciated that. P.S. I love you. Can I buy you a wine?”

Kelly Exeter: I’m so up with that and I think you and I both as bloggers know that when someone takes the time to write to us to tell us that thing that you said had a really big impact on me or it really got me thinking or it led to me making this change in my life or me changing my thinking this way, it just completely blows our mind and everything is so so worth it. So I do really love taking gratitude to the extreme and not just keeping it to yourself but there’s so many people that influence you in a positive way every single day, What if we just, like you said, drop someone an email, sent them a two-line text and just add “I so appreciate you,” “I so appreciate that 10 minutes that you gave me today” made all the difference and I reckon it just gets you looking a bit deeper.

Carly Jacobs: There’s an amazing tip that I read somewhere about like if you do receive a compliment or someone’s email, do say thank you for something you’ve written or something you’ve done for them, you pop it into a folder called The Happy Folder and so you just copy what’s said to you and you pop it in this folder And then when you’re feeling really, really crap and down about yourself and you need a bit of the “pick me up,” you go back into your happy folder and read all the nice things that people said about you.

Kelly Exeter: Oh I love that idea.

Carly Jacobs: How gorgeous is that? It’s so cute. I’ve been meaning to do it but I haven’t but I will.  I think it’s a good thing to do.

Kelly Exeter: I will confess. I’ve got that from my book where anything that anytime anyone’s ever dropped me an email or a note or said something on Twitter where they said ” I really enjoyed your book.” Straight into this folder it goes and I’m right in the middle of writing my second book and although by the time this podcast comes it might just about the out. If anyone who’s ever written a book knows is that you go through this, yeah you write it and it’s amazing and then you edit it and it’s just the worst thing you’ve ever seen i your entire life and what are you thinking with this? And then you get to the point of why do I do this. No one’s ever going to think it’s crap. And that’s so good time where I go and revisit that folder from my first book and read through all the nice things that people have said and go, okay.

Carly Jacobs: It’s so important to not keep your gratitude to yourself and why you need to tell other people.

Kelly Exeter: True and this is actually something I really love to just put out there is that if you read a book by someone, don’t just keep it to yourself that you loved it. Tweet the author. Send them an email. Authors have no idea whether people liked their book unless you actually physically come up to them or unless you actually tell them, look I really enjoy them. And that is something I actually try to do much more these days is that every time i read a book, I will try to leave an Amazon review or I would drop the author a line if I really, really loved it and I will let them know what specifically, I loved about it, what changed inspired in me, and this is the kind of thing that keeps, anyone who creates, an artist, a singer, a writer, presenter, all these people often feel like they’re creating out into the theatre and after you are consuming them, we just consume the stuff we thought was nice and we think it to ourselves, we never ever put it out there and I think it’s really, really important to let people know when their work, especially when their work is in the arts, when their work has inspired you.

Carly Jacobs: Yeah, I totally agree. I do that all the time like if I go to the theatre or see a performance like a comedy show, I’m always hanging around waiting for the people to finish. Oh my god you’re amazing I just thought you’re so brilliant. And my poor partner, he’s just like “You can’t just approach these people like that.” and I’m like but I love them.

Kelly Exeter: I think people think that people who are performers or writers or singers, people think that they just know that they’re amazing and they don’t need to be told and it’s so far from the truth. Like we need to be told.

Carly Jacobs: So in conclusion with the whole gratitude journal thing, is it totally awesome or is it a waste of time? I think we’re going down the jury bat on this one. Give gratitude journaling a go and if it works for you keep doing it. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t force it. And if it doesn’t work for you, try something like texting a friend and telling them how grateful you are for them or how much you love them or I mean that even works with bosses and things because if you’ve got an amazing boss, tell them that they’re amazing or amazing employee or something, anything like that.

Kelly Exeter: Amazing. The people that we probably least tell they’re amazing are our parents.

Carly Jacobs: Yeah, totally.

Kelly Exeter: And our partners.

Carly Jacobs: I tell my partner everyday just because he’s around I think he’s awesome. I don’t tell my parents enough though because I don’t see them as often because I live far away but yeah.

Kelly Exeter: That’s awesome. So yeah, definitely the gratitude journal thing is not working for you, then I reckon switch it around, chuck it out there into the world. Tell people how amazing they are and how grateful you are for them and I think that’s definitely what I’m going to do a bit more of and I reckon that’s going to work a treat.