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Last Updated on December 4, 2020

How a Gratitude Journal Can Drastically Change Your Life

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How a Gratitude Journal Can Drastically Change Your Life

Imagine going through daily life filled with all the usual responsibilities and challenges without any sense of relief. You’d probably have plenty of resentment accumulate in your mind.

What if I tell you there’s one simple way to make you happier every day? Not possible, you say?

It turns out there is, indeed, one simple practice that can make you happier, even when your circumstances remain the same: keeping a gratitude journal.

Keep reading to see all the compelling evidence that shows how practicing gratitude can really change your life for the better.

Why Gratitude Matters to You

“Whenever there’s a grateful moment, I note it. I know for sure that appreciating whatever shows up for you in life changes your personal vibration. You radiate and generate more goodness for yourself when you’re aware of all you have and not focusing on your have-nots.” – Oprah[1]

A gallup world poll has shown that 85% percent of people reported being disengaged at their jobs.[2] Many of them hate their jobs, and especially their bosses.

To add to this, 1 in 6 Americans are on some form of psychiatric medication.[3] Antidepressants are the most common type, followed by anti-anxiety medications.

There’s no denying that people are unhappy.

You may be wondering how you can feel grateful, especially when your situation might be legitimately bad. It may not be easy, but don’t lose hope because it’s definitely possible.

Here’s the good news:

Gratitude is a skill anyone can develop. All it takes is a bit of daily practice.

It’s the one thing that will help you become happier, even if difficult circumstances you may be in haven’t changed yet.

Monk and interfaith scholar David Steindl-Rast says the following about gratitude in his TED Talk:

“Is it really the happy people that are grateful? We all know quite a number of people who have everything that it would take to be happy, and they are not happy, because they want something else or they want more of the same. And we all know people who have lots of misfortune, misfortune that we ourselves would not want to have, and they are deeply happy. They radiate happiness. You are surprised. Why? Because they are grateful. If you think it’s happiness that makes you grateful, think again. It’s gratefulness that makes you happy.”[4]

How Gratitude Makes You Happier

Neuroscience has shown the act of being thankful releases dopamine and serotonin in your brain.[5]

Dopamine is what makes you feel good and causes you to want more, so simply starting that practice of gratitude will help you develop a habit of doing so.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that activates the happiness center of your brain, which is similar to how antidepressants work. So you can basically consider gratitude as a natural antidepressant, and some argue that it’s even better than the drugs.

Your brain cannot focus on positive and negative things at the same time. This is a key reason why practicing gratitude can help you shift your focus from being sad about the things you don’t have in your life to being glad for the things you do have.

Starting a Gratitude Journal

You can use anything to start logging things you are grateful for.

Whether it’s in a regular journal, a notebook, or just some scrap paper, anything can be used to simply take note of the things you are thankful for. The key is to just do it both intentionally and consistently.

Tips to Get Started

1. Keep Your Journal Visible

Keep your gratitude journal in a spot that you will see regularly each day. Your nightstand is a good spot where you will see it first thing when you wake up and before you go down for bed. Personally, I like to keep mine on the bathroom counter so that I do it first thing when I’m getting ready to start my day.

2. There Is No Right or Wrong Way

You don’t have to come up with the “right” answers. Start by keeping things simple and write anything that comes to mind. You can be thankful for things like a meal you just ate, a movie you just watched, or a friend you spent time with.

3. Develop Consistency

Try to make it a habit to take some time regularly to slow down and just engage in reflecting about the things you are thankful for. Spending as little as five minutes a day has been shown to be effective. If you miss a day, it’s totally fine. Just get back to it tomorrow.

It’s important to write everything out because journaling has been shown to activate the right hemisphere of your brain, which is the part of the brain that processes emotions and feelings.

As you begin to keep track of things you are grateful for, you will begin to feel happier because of the fact that the right hemisphere of your brain is connecting with those feel good emotions associated with gratefulness.

One of the world’s leading experts on the science of gratitude Robert Emmons pointed to research showing that expressing your thoughts by writing them down has more advantages than if you just think the thoughts[6]. It makes you more aware of them and can deepen the emotional impact it has on you.

Basic Techniques

Jason Marsh of the Greater Good Magazine at UC Berkeley interviewed Emmons to ask for tips on how to get the most out of your gratitude journal[7]. Here are some of the most important things to remember.

1. Don’t Just Go Through the Motions

It’s important to be intentional on why you are doing this exercise. Instead of doing this because someone is telling you to, think about what you are hoping to gain out of this exercise. Take the time to acknowledge you are doing this because cultivating more happiness in your life is important to you. “Motivation to become happier plays a role in the efficacy of journaling,” says Emmons.

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2. Go for Depth Over Breadth

After you’ve developed a gratitude journaling habit, it will serve you well to become more specific with the things you are thankful for. Being able to express one thing you are deeply thankful for is so much more meaningful than being thankful for a bunch of general, superficial things.

3. Get Personal

Taking time to focus on people you are grateful for has more of an impact than focusing on things that you are grateful for.

4. Try Subtraction, Not Just Addition

If you are having trouble coming up with things you are thankful for, one simple trick to spur up some gratitude is to start thinking about how your life would be if you didn’t have some of the things that you have now.

5. Savor Surprises

Keep track of pleasant or unexpected surprises as these are great things to reflect on when you have a chance. You may find reflecting on these moments can bring up stronger feelings of gratitude.

Emmons goes on to say that he recommends that people view each item in their gratitude journal as a gift, and that the whole process shouldn’t be an errand to do just to get it over with. Instead, it should be something you actively engage in to connect with the things you are genuinely thankful for.

“In other words, we tell them not to hurry through this exercise as if it were just another item on your to-do list. This way, gratitude journaling is really different from merely listing a bunch of pleasant things in one’s life,” says Emmons.

More Advanced Techniques

While having a gratitude journal proves to be helpful, it becomes most impactful when you don’t just keep it to yourself.

Unlike having a personal journal where it’s meant to be locked up in a secret space, a gratitude journal has the power not to just positively change you, but also the people around you.

Here are some advanced techniques you can use in your gratitude journaling in order to maximize it’s effectiveness.

1. Use Your Journal to Steer Conversations Toward Positive Topics

It’s easy to get into conversations that involve gossiping, negativity, and pessimism because it’s actually our brain’s way of trying to make ourselves feel better. Unfortunately, these kinds of conversations tend to be unproductive and deflating.

Steering your conversations about things you are grateful for can uplift your own spirits as well as the people you are talking to.

How to Do This

The next time you talk to someone, inject things you are grateful for into the conversation. Some ideas include pointing out how nice the weather is, how delicious your meal was, or how much you enjoyed spending time with your friend.

2. Tell Those You Love Why You Are Grateful for Them

You might be thankful for something a friend or your partner does for you, but gratitude will feel much more powerful when you are thankful for their character.

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For example, you may be thankful that your partner takes out the trash, but you’re even more thankful because s/he only does it because s/he’s thoughtful enough to know that you hate doing it.

It turns out being grateful for people in your life starts a generosity cycle. It makes you willing to do more for them, and this often leads to them responding with gratitude by doing more for you.

How to Do This

Write specific things about someone’s character that you are grateful for and keep your journal handy. When you spend time with that person, take a moment to share what you wrote about him or her.

3. Use Your Journal to Write Thank You Notes

The Journal of Happiness published a study where 219 men and women participants wrote three letters of gratitude over a three week period.[8] Results showed that writing letters of gratitude increased their happiness and life satisfaction alongside a decrease in depressive symptoms.

Taking the time to write thank you notes is an extremely simple and easy way to both write out what you’re grateful for and give positive affirmations to someone else in the process.

If you have the chance, go ahead and send those thank you cards. It will make both you and the receiver feel good.

How to Do This

Purchase a set of thank you cards or create your own. Once a week, look through your gratitude journal to find something you wrote about someone you’re grateful for and use what you logged to write out a thank you card and mail it out to him or her.

4. Let Gratitude Shift Negative Circumstances Into Positive Ones

I met a woman named Penny in Thailand who ran an orphanage with children who were affected by the AIDS virus. She singlehandedly showed me the power of practicing gratitude through her own life, and it changed my life.

She was caring for all these sick children that were not her own, but there was also one huge obstacle:

She had cancer.

But she didn’t let that stop her.

Rather than viewing the illness as something that was ruining her life, she shared this with me:

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“It’s kind of like a death sentence when the doctor says to you ‘you’re HIV positive’ or ‘you have cancer,’ and it gives me an ability to identify with these children that are HIV positive, so I’m grateful for cancer because of it, if nothing else.”

She is a living example of proof that we can find something to be thankful for, even in the most difficult situations. I keep this in mind, especially when I am going through some of my own tough challenges.

How to Do This

Think of a time in your life that was particularly difficult or sad. Take a moment to reflect in your journal to see if you can find something you are grateful for as a result of this experience.

Did the negative experience help you grow in any way? Or perhaps it helped you gain the ability to understand or comfort someone else who is going through the same experience?

Gratitude Is the Attitude

It is said that people feel happier during the Thanksgiving holidays because of all the serotonin producing tryptophan that exists in turkey, but that’s actually a myth. Turkey doesn’t contain a significant amount of tryptophan for it to have such huge effect on your mood.

So why is it that people feel so much happier during this time?

The answer lies in the name of the holiday itself: thanks-giving.

It’s because of gratitude and all the feel good chemicals running through your brain as a result.

So before you go on and convince yourself that you don’t have much to be thankful for, try starting a gratitude journal.

You may find yourself developing a skill that can be learned to actually make yourself happier and more fulfilled.

You will no longer find yourself limited and defined by your current situation. Instead, you will be able to find joy regardless of your circumstances.

So why not give it a try today?

More Tips on Leading a Grateful Life

Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Oprah.com: What Oprah Knows for Sure About Gratitude
[2] Gallup: The World’s Broken Workplace
[3] Scientific American: 1 in 6 Americans Takes a Psychiatric Drug
[4] TED: Want to be happy? Be grateful.
[5] Wharton Health Care: The Neuroscience of Gratitude
[6] Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough: The Psychology of Gratitude
[7] Greater Good Magazine: Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal
[8] Journal of Happiness: Letters of gratitude: Further evidence for author benefits.

More by this author

Eugene K. Choi

A life coach who helps people discover how to best utilize their passions and talents through a proven process.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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