Non Food Treat - Diary

Friday non-food treat: April

Food should always be enjoyable—but it shouldn’t be your greatest source of joy. As I’ve written about before, a huge part of having a healthy, happy, easy relationship with food is recognising that it’s just one element of a rich and fulfilling day.

Each month, I focus on a non-food treat that’s boosting my happiness. In a marvellous sort of upward spiral, this month’s treat can help to you appreciate many more…

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I have a peculiarly large collection of notebooks.

These tomes have accumulated during various points in my life: as a child who loved collecting stationery; as a university student who loved taking notes; and as a young journalist receiving countless goody bags (nauseating, I know).

Some have the odd scribble but, for the most part, their pages have remained woefully empty. Believe me, I know the virtues of journaling: I’ve studied literature at length and, since immersing myself in nutrition and lifestyle medicine, I’ve pored over several studies extolling the virtues of written reflection [1].

However, when you spend your days writing features, the last thing you feel like doing is using your evenings to eek out some more words.

Or so I thought.

Earlier this year, I attended a lecture by Dr John Briffa. He spoke about how to achieve a good night’s sleep and, fascinatingly, one of his recommendations was to keep a gratitude diary.

Granted, this isn’t an original concept. In fact, it’s rather trendy right now. Simply input #gratitude into social media and you’ll find scores of people gushing over the beauty of a sunset, a group of photogenic friends, or particularly colourful fruit bowl (all true examples!). And yet, in hearing about the value of gratitude from someone as rigorously scientific and no-nonsense as Dr Briffa, I was intrigued.

The method he endorses is blissfully simple. All you need to do is write down 3 things you’re grateful for each morning. In the evening, write down 3 good things that happened that day. That’s 6 points in total—and they can even be one just word long!

Nevertheless, take note: it’s important to actually write them down. Thinking about them is pleasant enough, but the act of writing—putting feelings into words—creates a measurable shift in the region of our brains associated with emotions and motivation [2].

My husband and I have been doing this for the past month—and I am blown away by its impact.

Starting your day by actively thinking about 3 things you’re grateful for has a tremendous impact on your mindset. What’s more, knowing you’re going to be writing about 3 good things later makes you actively look out for them during your day.

I won’t share everything I’ve written during the past month (!), but some examples spring to mind:

Smiling at a stranger in the street, and receiving a smile in return.

Waking up in a warm home.

The fact that it’s staying lighter in the evenings.

Speaking to my brother and sister on the phone.

Eating a lovely, homemade meal.

The interesting thing is that not one of the above is remarkable. They’re completely ordinary and, if I hadn’t written them down, they would have been quickly forgotten as the days rolled on.

In today’s world, it’s so easy to get caught up in the feeling that you’ve just got to achieve or attain a little bit more to be happy. It’s an extraordinary, wonderful realisation to know that the things that bring you joy can be the things that already make up your typical day. You just need to pay attention to them.

That’s why this month’s non-food treat is a beautiful notebook. I suggest buying the most elegant one you can find (and there are lots of handmade treasures on Etsy), and treating yourself to a nice pen to go with it. Place both on your bedside table. Get into the habit of reaching for your notebook and pen first thing in the morning and last thing at night. It may feel odd for the first few days, but it will rapidly become something you look forward to doing.

A recurring point of my morning lists is ‘I slept well’, so Dr John Briffa is certainly onto something. What’s more, I am delighted to have found a use for my mountains of notebooks—another thing to be grateful for!

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