Gratitude has long been praised for its ability to induce happiness and peace even in harsh conditions, and positive psychologists point to gratitude as a reliable path to a happier life. Get intentional about your happiness, and discover why writing in a gratitude journal is a habit worth embracing.
“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” – William Arthur Ward
Benefits of Practicing Gratitude
By incorporating daily grateful thinking into your life, you are laying a solid foundation upon which happiness can flourish. Finding gratitude–through practicing it, of course–can actually increase your level of happiness by as much as 25 percent, though I’ve found that the numbers don’t really matter when you’re indeed genuinely living in the sensation of joy that gratitude gives you.
As noted in this Harvard Health Publications article:
In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
In study after study, researchers have found that if people actively try to become more grateful in their everyday lives, they’re likely to become happier—and healthier—as well. A few benefits of practicing gratitude include:
- Increased self-esteem
- Better sleep
- Improved physical health
- Improved psychological health
- Increased mental strength
- Enhanced empathy and reduced aggression
Negative thinking is a pattern that feeds on itself. Luckily, research presented in Dr. Martin Seligman’s book Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment shows that positive thinking is a pattern that also fuels its own forward motion.
So, how exactly can we generate happiness? Up to 40 percent of our happiness may stem from intentional activities that we choose to engage. One of the activities endorsed by science is writing in a gratitude journal.
Benefits of a Gratitude Journal
Keeping a gratitude journal is an exercise which forces you to focus on the positive and, in doing so, helps reprogram your thoughts and breaks the negative thought cycle. The intention is to pay attention to the good things in life that you would otherwise take for granted, or that would otherwise be missed.
Recalling moments, personal attributes, life lessons, or people in your life which you are thankful for sets the stage for a sustainable life theme of gratefulness. It is not fleeting happiness that we want, after all; we want lasting happiness that naturally underlies each life experience, whether it’s easy or difficult.
Research conducted by Robert Emmons and Mike McCullough showed that people who kept a daily gratitude diary for two weeks (which also documented any struggles along the way) experienced a dramatic rise in joy, happiness, and life satisfaction. Expressing your gratefulness in writing actually retrains your brain to look beyond physical pains and toward a bright future.
How to Keep a Gratitude Journal
The following advice extends from my own practice coupled with scientific research rooted mainly in positive psychology. I sincerely hope it helps you, too.
Please note that research varies on the effectiveness of daily versus weekly journaling. My advice is to conduct your own experiment. Personally, I look forward to and enjoy thanksgiving, because it has had such a huge impact on my happiness; therefore, I journal daily. Some days I don’t write, but I have formed the habit to seek out things to be grateful for each day, no matter what. It has become natural.
Set aside five minutes of your day to write, and then:
Dedicate a separate notebook or a separate section in your current journal to penning your gratitude. This creates consistency and fluidity, and you can read through it all at once.
Choose your medium. Handwriting your journal encourages you to slow down in a fast world, and connects you to your words. (Read about the benefits of journaling.) However, you may prefer typing to handwriting. The tool you use is ultimately up to you.
Include dates and page numbers. It’s inspiring to look back on certain dates and remember what you were thankful for that day. Numbered pages reveal how far along your gratitude journey you have come, encouraging you to keep going.
Write 3-5 things you’re grateful for. One sentence each will suffice, unless you prefer lengthier descriptions. Experiment.
Be specific. Get clear about why you’re thankful for this moment, person, opportunity, etc. Rather than writing, “I am grateful for my home,” it would behoove you to write, “I am grateful for this roof over my head, shelter from the elements, and the comfort it gives after a long day.” In other words: Depth over breadth.
Keep it time-sensitive. Whatever thanks you express in words, keep it specific to that day. Record unexpected positive events or experiences that happened today.
Relish the feeling. Don’t just go through the motions. Really feel the gratitude. Write with awareness and purpose. Give it your thought and emotion. See each grateful sentence–and its source–as a gift. Cherish the depth of gratitude that you feel towards this gift. In fact, when you write down your thoughts, it deepens their emotional impact.
Find the hidden gift. Even in the most dire situations, you can train your brain to seek out the positive aspects of what you’re going through. From personal experience, I know this can be extremely difficult, but it can be done. Instead of dwelling on what’s not working, give energy to the smallest glimmer of hope. Focus on your blessings more than your burdens. Think about what you can do versus what you cannot do. When you consistently widen your perspective, it becomes easier to find the good.
Doodle. Whether or not you have an eye (or the hand) for art, drawing can help solidify your gratitude. Feel free to put your gratitude into picture form, whatever that might look like.
Be consistent. Write in your journal daily (or weekly), preferably at the same time of day or in conjunction with the same activity. For example, I write in my gratitude journal before I go to bed at night, and I do it while lying on the floor with my feet up on my bed (which stretches out my lower back). Consistency firmly anchors the activity into your routine.
You can also try keeping a one-sentence happiness journal.
There are no long-term quick fixes for raising your level of happiness. You must be patient and practice grateful thinking every single day for it to work. Gratitude is definitely a daily practice.
Sometimes, it may feel like you’re fighting against the negative. Do your best. Gratitude is not a cure-all for negativity. Frustration still happens. Anger, disappointment, sadness, and stress still exist, but they can coexist with the knowledge, deep down, that beauty is the light in the soul. Gratitude does not erase painful emotions, but it does loosen their grip on your life.
For some of us, and in particular situations, being optimistic feels impossible and almost stressful in itself. My point is that it happens, but that’s not cause for quitting. If you put your journal down, make it a point to come back to it. Keep coming back to it.
Do you keep a gratitude journal? Has grateful writing been a positive influence in your life and a contributing factor in your happiness? What and who are you thankful for today? Please share your thoughts, practices, insights, lessons, and experiences with me in the comments.
Share this post with someone you’re grateful for.
I am grateful for you reading this.