What I learned experimenting with a gratitude journal for 6 months this year
Back in 2021 I started a kind of creative project I’d never done before. It was a ‘meta’ creative project — a project that required me to start and finish a new creative project every two weeks. I called it the ‘Life Sprint Project’ and it lasted for all of four sprints (or about eight weeks). In that time, though, I managed to:
- Write and publish 12 new short stories
- Assemble and publish my first collection of short stories (which you can download as a PDF for free)
- Create and publish a video game (which you can play in your browser)
- Record and publish a new podcast mini series (which you can listen to here, or by searching “brad ewin the in” in your podcasting app)
Although I lost the momentum of starting and finishing a new creative thing every two weeks, I kept wanting to get it back. I went back and forth on writing and publishing a second collection of short stories for a very long time. I guess a year’s worth given where we are now! But it never came to be. I haven’t written a single story, beginning to end, all year.
But I have kept the creative flame alive. A tad. Through a little web project called ‘Delightful Things’.
Delightful Things was my low effort stab at doing two things at once:
- Doing something creative — By turning what easily could’ve just been a private note on my phone into a public-facing “project”.
- Fostering good mental health — By giving the gratitude journal format a try. Something I’ve heard has been a positive experience for many.
All I tried to do was write down one cool or nice thing from my day, every day, since the 19th of July. I failed that. There are many days I’ve missed. But overall, it’s helped paint a really interesting picture. Since I have an absolutely horrendous memory, and I don’t usually journal in any other format, or take a lot of random photos throughout my day-to-day life, I forget most of my experiences. Going back through this has helped bring to mind a number of fun things I’d otherwise forgotten.
But the other great thing about this project is that I can go back and group things into topics. And see what I really liked this year! Which is fun for my own interest, but also allows me to pull together a list of what I might consider recommendations to others.
Here’s what I found…
🤖 4 digital products that changed the game
I don’t often “love” a digital product. I’m rarely going to be an ambassador for a tool I use at work, or a word-of-mouth referrer for an app I play around with on my phone. I rarely leave reviews, and I’m never going to give a particularly high NPS rating. But these four bits of tech are things I consider convenience gamechangers.
- Spotify — For all your daily music listening needs. Needs no introduction.
- Doodle — To easily create a poll to organise a group activity. (It still surprises me that iMessage, WhatsApp, etc. don’t have this as a feature yet.) [Update: I’ve since learned that WhatsApp does have polls.]
- Apple Wallet — Not for payments. I still prefer a physical card. But for tickets and boarding passes, it’s an enormous improvement in convenience!
- Food delivery apps — Uber Eats, Deliveroo, etc. I’m in two minds about these. I’m unconvinced riders and restaurants are getting a good deal out of these. But ordering in can really take a load off after a heavy day. (Pro tip: Delete these apps off your phone to prevent the lazy, hungry version of yourself from bankrupting you.)
🍕 13 restaurants I loved
There were many more great places I enjoyed this year, but these were the ones that were my delightful thing of the day. I’m not a super fancy foodie man, but I rate every single one of these places for one reason or another. (Note: Some might consider my use of the term “restaurant” quite loose here.)
- My Neighbours the Dumplings — Everything is fab. Order a bunch. Spend a lot. (Don’t skip on the cocktails.)
- Chums — Makes me long for the Scottish childhood I never had. Get yourself a steak pie with beans, a yum yum, and a flat white. Breakfast of champions. (Be thankful I didn’t stick with my original bad pun of “chum-pions”.)
- Wingstop — There’s a small part of me that thinks real wings aficionados will write Wingstop off as mainstream nonsense. But I just love it. Every. Single. Time. (Pro tip: Don’t skip on the Louisiana rub.)
- BAO — Fun brand. Fun food. Fun cocktails. Go more than once.
- Taqueria — One of my fave taco spots in London. (The other is El Pastor, which perhaps unsurprisingly has the vastly better tacos al pastor, in my opinion.)
- Marugame Udon — Go if you like noodles. It can be cheap and tasty if you’re diligent and not too hungry. But it’s easy for the cost to add up otherwise.
- Bun House — Cute spot. Tasty food. Easy to just pop in for something small while you’re out and about.
- Crosstown Doughnuts — Not a restaurant in the traditional sense. But given the UK doesn’t have the same great doughnut scene as the US, Crosstown has become quite a return visit for me. Especially for a matcha ring.
And pizza had such a presence, I felt it deserved its own sub-list.
- The Hayman’s Kitchen — Literally one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had in my life. The cheese was incredible. And all at such an unexpected little family-run place in Kent.
- Pizza Union — The best value-for-money (and honestly, value-for-time, given how fast they crank these out) pizza in London. Go the £5 margherita, eat in to prolong the warmth, and avoid the temptation of extras. You’ll be very happy with what you got for the price.
- All Kaps Pizza — NY-style slices are rare in London. You gotta appreciate whenever you can get your hands on it, even if it’s only once a week in this Dalston pop-up.
- CIVERINOS slice — A beachfront slice shop in Edinburgh. The prices looked a bit expensive, but what they serve you is HUGE. The Detroit-style slice was brill (spicy honey always gets me).
- Crisp Pizza — Hailed as the best pizza in London. I liked it. A lot. If it weren’t so far away from me, I’d be tempted to pop back with a rolling series of friends to introduce it to.
🥐 14 foods that had a moment
These are all little bundles of delight.
- Blueberry mochi — Many mochis are fab, actually. I also specifically rate milk mochi.
- Bún chả — The dish that unlocked Vietnamese cuisine for me. Extraordinary. Almost my go-to order when having Vietnamese now.
- Starbucks breakfast — Of all the classic chain spots, Starbucks might take the breakfast crown for me (tied with McDonald’s). It’s just a solid, no-frills, ham and cheese croissant.
- Leftover pizza — I cannot agree with the folks who say cold, leftover pizza is better than fresh. But it’s always a delight to wake up knowing you’ve got leftover pizza in the fridge.
- Hackney Gelato — Of tubbed ice creams, this might be my fave in the UK. (Pro tip: Trying other flavours is great, but chocolate consistently remains king to me.)
- Scampi and chips by the seaside — Less about the food, more about the experience. In those rare, fleeting moments of hot British summer, this is not to be missed.
- Pork tacos from La Casa del Burrito — These were not what I expected, but I really enjoyed them for what they were.
- Foccacia soliders — Forget normal toast. If you’re boiling eggs, treat yourself and dip with foccacia. Gamechanger, courtesty of Allpress.
- Hot breakfast sandwiches — There’s a whole lot of variety in the brekkie sando game. And I’m here for it all.
- Cacio e pepe — 2022 might’ve been the first time I’ve ever had this tasty pasta dish. Grated Pecorino Romano, black pepper, spaghetti. Simple. Incredible.
- Foccacia in general — Two spots on this list?! I think 2022 must also be the year I really ventured into foccacia. Great bread.
- Pastries in Paris — They’re in a different league to London. And I need a food scientist to explain to me why.
- Japanese-style dinner — Curries, rice, pickles, miso soup. All that good stuff. And it isn’t too tough for someone entirely culinarily unskilled like me to approximate.
- Danishes — I slept on these pastries for too long. They’re excellent, in both sweet and savoury varieties. If memory serves, I had great ones at Jolene and Arôme.
☕️ 3 coffee spots, 3 coffee experiences, and 1 specific coffee
- Ngopi — An Indonesian coffee shop in London. With my favourite barista in the world.
- Batch Baby — If you like filter coffee (and you should give it the time of day — don’t let stereotypes about American coffee throw you), you’ll love this place.
- Prufrock Coffee — Another London fave.
- 1 € espresso in Italy — It’s not my favourite way of drinking coffee, but I do quite miss the Italian coffee bar experience now I’m back in London.
- Coffee cupping — I rate this as both a different way to experience coffee, but also as a fun off-the-wall activity to do.
- Espresso tasting — Earlier this year, Prufrock Coffee had a restored vintage espresso machine. And you could blind taste test an espresso made on their modern machine vs. the vintage machine. Good fun!
- A Starbucks pumpkin spice latte — I know, I know. But I have one every year to mark the beginning of Autumn. It’s a little tradition. And traditions can be fun.
🍸 Everything drinks-related (5 tipples, 7 places)
- Clase Azul Reposado tequila — This changed my view of what tequila could be.
- The one-sip martini (from Tayēr + Elementary)
- Vault City sour beers — So much delightful madness. Absolutely love these folks.
- Aperol spritz — The undisputed king of summer cocktails.
- The Perfect Scotch Old Fashioned (from Black Rock)
- Tayēr + Elementary — Apparently the second best bar in the world. Love their cocktails, and given their location in the distinctly more businessy Old Street area of London, it’s not too difficult to get in.
- The Scotch Malt Whisky Society — There are a few around. I went to one in Edinburgh. Tried some very nice whiskies.
- Humble Grape — I’m slowly getting more and more into wine. I have scarcely little wine bar experience, but I didn’t mind popping into one of these.
- Black Rock — My own personal quintessential whisky bar. Its stone’s throw distance from my previous employer meant it became a staple. And I ascribe this with how I got “into” whisky.
- Bull in a China Shop — Cool whisky bar. And in a great location, with plenty of other spots nearby for before and after.
- Milroys of Spitalfields — Another cool whisky bar. Almost too cool for me. Feels like it’s a notch up from many other places I’ve been. But a great time was had!
- Beer + Burger — Come for the beer selection, stay for the burgers.
🛠 3 physical products I rate
There are very few physical products in general that I really, really rate. Like, specific products. There could be a few brands, or perhaps a category/type of product I like, but it’s rarely one specific thing. These are the ones that made my year:
- AirPods — Or decent wireless earbuds in general. Phone calls are infinitely better, with both hands free and no cord to get tangled on anything. (A gamechanger in my headphone-snag-prone flat.)
- Meller sunglasses — Cheap. Cool. Genuine UV protection. Polarised lenses. This is what sunnies should be.
- Bonjela — The ulcer gel. Yep. Lifesaver.
🍿 5 bits of media that made the cut
Don’t read too much into this. I consumed WAY more media than this, this year. And I’m sure there is plenty that was better than these. But on the day, these made my delightful things list.
- Bullet Train — A mindless, fun, action-packed romp, with a good bit of humour to boot. All set on a train in Japan.
- Jordan Stoddard — Not a bit of media, but a person creating some. Cute, unique, subtly magical little stories about his friends.
- The Truth — A great podcast that describes itself better than I ever could. “The Truth makes movies for your ears: short stories that are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, and always intriguing.”
- If I Were You — A comedic advice podcast. My go-to whenever I’m doing housework.
- LeVar Burton Reads — Listen to the legend read a great short story each episode. Perfect for winding down at night.
🕺 Some great days and nights out
Celebrating with friends and family:
- 3 weddings
- Friendsgiving dinner
Enjoying all kinds of arts:
Activities that are a bit of fun:
❤️ The little things
Stepping away from the more commercialised things above, these were the little things in life that made my day.
- A relaxed, sunny Sunday morning stroll
- A weekend with no plans
- Free beers at the office
- Dinner parties with friends
- Taking time for yourself
- Seeing an old friend
- The comfort of returning home after being away
- Having leftovers to eat, to save you from cooking
- A night of dancing
- Calling your family
- A day off for no reason
- Snuggling up under a duvet on the couch and watching a film
- A crisp evening walk in Autumn
- Being able to walk to work
- Loose, light trousers to lounge around in
- Having the flexibility to work from home
- Travelling by train instead of plane
- Long weekends
- Having a friend you can share your troubles with, who gets it
- An unplanned beer at the pub
- The unexpected, unnecessary thank you
- Team Christmas dinners
- The NHS / universal healthcare
- Video calls (always feels more satisfying than audio, and audio always feels more satisfying than text)
- Taking a break from the city
- A morning swim
- Little local cafes in foreign cities
- 24/7 supermarkets
- Food adventure days
👇 See new delightful things every day
Head over to Delightful Things to see more about the above, and a new delightful thing every day.