A gratitude journal is a clever way to train ourselves to be more positive. When we ‘prime’ ourselves with what is good in our lives, it can instantly boost our mood. Life can be tough, messy and unkind and it takes effort to seek out the good sometimes. Keeping a gratitude journal is a positive way to keep tweaking our thoughts to focus on the positive stuff.
What has happened in your day so far? Can you see any good things? Anything that brought a smile to your face? Today the sun is shining and I decided to try catch some sun in the garden. The clouds have appeared now but I got a good half hour of Vitamin D! One of my favourite songs is finally available on itunes (Chandelier by Sia, if you’re interested) and dog gave me the best cuddle this morning. These are just a few of the little things that have been good today.
If you find that your mood has been a bit low lately, try starting a gratitude journal. At the end of each day/week, write 3-5 things in there that helped you to feel happy or appreciative. You can also read back all the good things that have happened when you need a mood boost.
Studies have traced a range of impressive benefits to the simple act of writing down the things for which we’re grateful—benefits including better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, and more happiness among adults and kids alike.
The basic practice is straightforward. In many of the studies, people are simply instructed to record five things they experienced in the past week for which they’re grateful. The entries are supposed to be brief—just a single sentence—and they range from the mundane (“waking up this morning”) to the sublime (“the generosity of friends”) to the timeless (“the Rolling Stones”).
Here are a few great suggestions that I came across:
- Don’t just go through the motions. Research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and others suggests that journaling is more effective if you first make the conscious decision to become happier and more grateful. “Motivation to become happier plays a role in the efficacy of journaling,” says Emmons.
- Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.
- Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.
- Try subtraction, not just addition. One effective way of stimulating gratitude is to reflect on what your life would be like without certain blessings, rather than just tallying up all those good things.
- Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.
- Don’t overdo it. Writing occasionally (once or twice per week) is more beneficial than daily journaling. In fact, one study by Lyubomirsky and her colleagues found that people who wrote in their gratitude journals once a week for six weeks reported boosts in happiness afterward; people who wrote three times per week didn’t. “We adapt to positive events quickly, especially if we constantly focus on them,” says Emmons. “It seems counterintuitive, but it is how the mind works.”
There is no right or wrong way to record entries in a gratitude journal. You can choose what suits you best – whether that’s writing in the morning, afternoon or evening or writing daily or weekly. I recommend twice a week. Sit down somewhere quietly and really engage in the process. Try not to see it as just another item on your “to do” list. Instead see it as a beneficial activity that has the power to boost your mood incredibly effectively.