Forget gratitude journals, try chain journaling

I invented a new form of gratitude journaling, called chain journaling

Forget gratitude journals, try chain journaling
Photo by lilartsy / Unsplash

I have been feeling creative lately. Generously generative.

One of the reasons is because I started pondering more about the causal chains that trigger butterfly effects and catalyze domino effects. I've been scrawling a lot of journal entries lately in a bound notebook, and a prominent pattern has been my reflections on how certain events or decisions led to something else to happen.

I'm calling this "chain journaling" because it interlinks events in our recent memories in causal chains.

I'll give you an example:

  • If I hadn’t gone to volunteer for the ultramarathon in Auburn, I wouldn’t have returned home with 50 leftover burritos to give away
  • If I didn't have 50 burritos to give away, I wouldn't have formerly met some of my street's tent residents that night, and felt extra sociable
  • If I hadn't felt sociable that night, I wouldn't have met my new friends E&V in my building in our common area (which led to a 2 hour chat until 1:00 am!)
  • If I hadn’t met E&V, they wouldn't have invited me to join their small group doing The Artist's Way (fortunately, they just had started!)
  • If I hadn't done The Artist's Way and joined those weekly phone calls, I wouldn’t have been close enough to be cat-sitting for them while they went camping last weekend
  • If I hadn’t cat-sat for them, I wouldn’t have been able to meet their female friend at a door-key hand-off
  • If I hadn’t met her, I wouldn’t have been passed a second-hand compliment (E: “she told me to tell you she thinks you’re cute even though she already has a partner”)
  • If I hadn't gotten that compliment, I wouldn't be feelin' myself so hard this weekend
  • If I hadn't been so self-confident this weekend, then ... etc etc

I could trace this timeline even further forward or backward at any given moment, but usually I'm going backwards in time from a recent happening.

My favorite thing about chain journaling is that it really helps me cherish how much one thing precipitates another. I don't worry about whether things are genuinely interconnected. I'll seize whatever flap of a butterfly's wings and conjure my own butterfly effect. It is a practice of both observation and imbuing meaning.

But more importantly, chain journaling helps me appreciate the fruitfulness of an ostensibly standalone moment in time. Every small thing can topple the dominoes to something even grander. The fertility of every fleeting event is spine-tinglingly beautiful, and I love starting every morning of my day with the mindset that something today could blossom to something magnificent down the road.

Here's another "chain journal" I reflected on:

  • If I hadn't been gifted a complimentary print New Yorker subscription from my friend, I wouldn't have made it a goal to read it every week
  • If I hadn't aspired to read it every week, I wouldn't have been cultivated a habit to read the magazine at The Stable Cafe every Saturday morning
  • If I hadn't been at that cafe that one morning, I wouldn't have met one of my new recent best friends, M
  • If I hadn't met M, we wouldn't have hosted this joint birthday party with 80 guests (where I've met so many new friends!)
  • If I hadn't met that particular new friend... etc etc.

Journaling like this is incredibly generative, because I can either trace further back in time and connect more things, or I can diverge at different points in the chain and start a new branch in the chain.

Another aspect that I love about chain journaling is that it makes it easier to be grateful for the people in my life, because I can see that they are entangled with something greater (e.g., "If you hadn't needed to use that bathroom that one time, XYZ wouldn't have happened...").

Chain journaling has helped draw meaningful constellations from the formerly punctilate picture of my cosmos. It interweaves events together. I've been really benefiting from meditating on the possibilities our lives hold at any moment in time. I'm starting to say yes to more things, as a mutual effort to co-create with what the universe is giving me. Woo.

In an hour, E&V are taking me on a field trip to their favorite grocery store. Who knows what will spring from that!

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