Creating a Mindful Gratitude Journal with Amber Tucker and Paige Sawler

Explore all the heart and creativity that went into the Gratitude Journal by Mindful with senior editor Amber Tucker and junior designer Paige Sawler.

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Real Mindful: Creating a Mindful Gratitude Journal with Amber Tucker and Paige Sawler

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Stephanie Domet:  Hello. Welcome to Real Mindful! This is where we speak mindfully about things that matter. 

We’re here twice a month, introducing you to some of the teachers, thinkers, writers and researchers who are engaged in the mindfulness movement. You’ll hear all kinds of conversations here about the science of mindfulness, the practice of mindfulness and the heart of it. 

I’m Stephanie Domet. I’m the managing editor at Mindful Magazine and Mindful.org. And this is Real Mindful. 

This is a time of year when many of us begin to turn our thoughts toward gratitude as the calendar year dwindles. And here in the northern hemisphere, the light does too. We might be inclined to turn inward and reflect on how and where we are and let the feeling of gratitude infuse us. And, you know, sometimes it doesn’t come that easily. And that’s what we’re talking about on Real Mindful today. 

We’re marking the launch of our first ever gratitude journal, which appeared on newsstands November 23rd. The journal is packed with personal essays, gratitude practices and the latest science on how and why gratitude works. It’s beautifully illustrated with lots of space for you to write and draw in response to the prompts that are tucked in every corner of it. Amber Tucker is a senior editor at Mindful and Mindful.org and Paige Sawler is our junior designer. And together, they led the team that produced the Gratitude Journal, and the three of us met up recently to talk about the journal, the science of gratitude, and our own relationships with feeling grateful. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as we did.  

SD: Well, hello, both of you, and welcome to Real Mindful Nation. I’m so glad to have you here. It’s such a strange thing for us to do. It’s not strange for us to be together on Zoom, but it is a little strange for us to be together on the podcast. But I’m really glad that it’s happening and that we have this way to celebrate our work in the Gratitude Journal. So thank you for agreeing to this kind of bonkers idea.  

Amber Tucker: Thank you so much for hosting this. It’s going to be fun. 

Paige Sawler: I’m excited.

SD: Paige, let me start with you. What went through your mind when you were asked to design a gratitude journal?

Paige Sawler: Oh, boy. I mean, it’s my true dream project, honestly. Gratitude has been such a big part of my life forever, so to be asked to lead this project was like—I mean, it’s over, and I still can’t believe that I got to work on it in the first place. It’s definitely the most ‘Paige’ project I could ever do. Anyone who worked on it with me could tell you what my excitement was a lot.  

SD: What do you mean when you say gratitude has always been a big part of your life?

PS: I feel like it’s interesting. I was having a conversation with someone the other day about how even in high school, I was always this optimistic, like, really a cheery, happy person. In high school, people did not think that it was very cool to be super happy all the time and I didn’t know the words for what I was feeling, which was gratitude.

Most of the time, I was just constantly grateful for all my teachers who taught me so much and the friendships I was in but didn’t really know what those words were until I graduated, and people gave me some words. I did a couple gratitude journals on my own that had different ways to reflect on your daily life. And really any time that I felt sad or lost, I feel like I’ve always come back to gratitude and all the things grateful I am for everything in my life. It makes me emotional.

SD: I love this intuitive sense of gratitude that’s been this theme in your life. Amber, when we started to work on this journal on the editorial side, we made the backbone of it, this long reported piece by Misty Pratt on the science of gratitude. That language that Paige talks about can be instinctive for some people but it’s something that’s really rooted in research, can you talk about why, for you, it was important to include the latest research into gratitude?

AT: Yeah, absolutely. I will preface this by saying everything you said Paige is so beautiful, and I have often not been that way in my life; I’ve always had a strong, negativity bias. While I do feel gratitude, sometimes it’s hard to really feel it— to kind of let the joy of gratitude come out.

So, I’m kind of coming at it from the other direction. I do find the science really intriguing because especially in the past couple of decades or so, there’s been a lot of really exciting research that’s come out that’s looking at kind of the nuts and bolts of the science of gratitude that includes the benefits it has for the person who is cultivating gratitude, the person who is receiving expressions of gratitude, and how that gratitude ripples out the level of like families and communities.

All of this is peer reviewed research in psychology, business ethics journals, and communications journals so, it’s kind of starting to get out there. We already recognize gratitude and appreciation as virtues, and we often think of the practice like counting your blessings or making a list of things you’re grateful for. Those are kind of like the traditional forms you might already know but now there’s also this science supporting a wide variety of gratitude practices.

So, when Misty went in and explored all of this really interesting research that runs through the journal, we really wanted to make the goal to offer readers this kind of science base and heart centered look at gratitude and all of the beneficial ways that we can practice it.

SD: And Amber, what stands out to you about the current research on gratitude?

AT: I think to me, my favorite thing is the way that the research points to gratitude helping us to move beyond more individualistic ways of thinking about ourselves towards seeing how all of us are really connected.

There is this great quote from psychologist Georg Simmel who calls gratitude “the moral memory of mankind,” or humankind. It makes me think about how wisdom traditions from all over the world have taught us that we can benefit by gaining perspective, humility, patience, and a greater capacity for kindness by recognizing that none of us would be where we are or would have what we have without all the other people and ancestors in societies and the natural world that supports life and all these other things.

So, in that sense, everybody is connected in this very literal way, and gratitude for that doesn’t just help us to get through a tough day or helps us remember to say thank you at the coffee shop; It’s about seeing our bigger picture and how we all belong to each other.

SD: So beautiful. So now Paige, given that you were sort of handed this big task that’s very heart centered and rooted in science. How did you approach this from a design point of view?

PS: Oh, man, I’m just like feeling so much right now. Just hearing you talk Amber really encapsulates so much of what makes me the most emotional about gratitude, that connection. It’s like, Yeah, I’m grateful for my apartment, but I’m like, grateful for the Earth existing.

Anyway, this was a big task, but I approached it with so much help the whole time. I mean, the whole team supported me on this project. I need to give them a lot of love because I feel like there’s no way I would have been able to put as much as I did into it without the backing of my team.

I’m really lucky to have Jessica as my art director who helped me. She puts so much trust in me, lets me have so much fun and just try new things. I got to make it look exactly how I envisioned it. The rest of the team helped so much, like every time I presented a new element or an idea I had, it was always met with such enthusiasm, so it made the work a lot easier. And I also care about this thing so much; It felt very personal to me. So, you know, my passion for the project definitely steered the ship and got me through a couple of late nights…

SD: Just a couple?

PS: Yeah, it’s cheesy but honestly, I just kept going back to how grateful I was to be working on the project any time that I was like, Oh my gosh, there is so much to do and deadlines I was like, I’m just so grateful that this is what I get to be stressed about.

SD: What did you know for sure needed to be included in your design of this gratitude journal?

PS: I mean, I basically wanted it to include everything that I love like photos of cute animals, illustrations, bright colors, fun shapes, some coloring, some hand lettering.

It all sort of stems from the fact that I wanted to include a lot of hand-drawn elements. I wanted the journal to look loose and playful in hopes that it would look welcoming enough to draw people. It’s like sometimes when I start a new journal, whether it’s a notebook or like a guided journal, I have a hard time because it looks so clean and perfect and precise. And so, I kind of wanted this to feel like someone had already made the first mark so it would feel nice to jump in and didn’t have to be afraid to make a mistake or just doodle on the page. I wanted it to feel like it is here for you.

SD: Yeah, that’s marvelous, that idea of making it hospitable and making it a place where someone can try things out; can try the gratitude on for size and see how it fits.

PS: Yeah, it’s like I wanted it to be like a cozy, well-lived cabin instead of like a minimalist modern apartment. 

SD: So like cottage core? completely as of the moment. Amber, there are these hospitable moments in the journal amid the science reporting, and there are also these kinds of personal essays and personal takes on gratitude. Can you talk a little about the kind of range of experiences and perspectives that those essays are offering?

AT: Yeah, I think that we approached this project in such an integrated way; in terms of the design and editorial teams on this project. The editorial team supported the design and the design supported the editorial. So that was really great and that really came through for me in the personal essays.

We’ve got Michelle Maldonado, a really awesome mindfulness teacher, talking about how you can adapt your self-care practices to sustain you in challenging times. Someone else we talked to was Jenée Johnson, who looks at how practicing joy and making space for joy in your life is a part of recovering from personal or intergenerational trauma.