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Last Updated on June 4, 2020

How a Gratitude Journal Can Drastically Change Your Life

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 June 3, 2020

19 Definitions Of Success You Should Never Ignore

19 Definitions Of Success You Should Never Ignore

What is success?

Is it wealth? Is it happiness? Is it fame?

The late Zig Ziglar was one of the most respected modern day experts on success, motivation, and leading a balanced life. In his book Born to Win!, he argues that success cannot be defined in one sentence, but instead it is comprised of many things. One could argue that the definition depends on the individual and that one size does not fit all[1].

Here are 19 different definitions of success. Not all of these will resonate with you, but chances are at least a few of them will. Use these or find inspiration here to create your own definition of success that can be applied to your unique life.

1. Success is always doing your best.

Success can be achieved when you try your best in all aspects of everything you do, even if that doesn’t lead to big results. If you’ve done your best, you should feel proud of your efforts.

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2. Success is properly setting concrete goals.

Be realistic and concrete when setting goals. Success does not come from setting abstract goals. If you know where you’re heading, that is a success in itself, even if you don’t ultimately arrive to the planned destination.

3. Success is having a place to call home.

Home is where your heart soars. You are always successful when you can call a place home. Home doesn’t have to be a specific structure. It can be a country, a city, or even a person. If you have a place you feel comfortable and safe, you’re already achieving something great.

4. Success is understanding the difference between need and want.

If you can meet your monthly obligations and fulfill your basic needs, you are successful. Being able to identify when you absolutely need something and when you can do without it often leads to financial stability and is a great way to succeed.

5. Success is believing you can.

If you believe you can, you will succeed. Self-belief doesn’t come naturally to everyone, so if you’re able to tell yourself that you can achieve the goals in your plans, you’re doing great.

6. Success is remembering to balance work with passion.

Work without passion creates undue stress and empty achievements. Focus on what excites you. If you’re happy at your job, that’s great. However, even if you aren’t, you can balance your formal job with hobbies or volunteer work you’re passionate about.

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7. Success is taking care of your needs.

Remember to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. Self-care is essential if you want to have any meaningful impact on the world around you.

8. Success is learning that you sometimes have to say no.

Success only comes with a balanced life. Part of balance is learning to say no. Saying no doesn’t mean you are selfish; it simply means you have priorities and know what you need to give your attention to at any given time.

9. Success is knowing your life is filled with abundance.

Love, health, friends, family…life is filled with abundance. Recognizing this is an important step to feeling grateful for all life has given you. If you can feel this, you are already experiencing success.

10. Success is understanding you cannot keep what you don’t give away.

You will only succeed if you help others succeed. Learning to give instead of always take is part of creating a world we all want to live in. When you help others, you will also create an environment where others want to help you.

11. Success is overcoming fear.

Conquering a fear makes you feel invincible. Even if it’s confronting just one small fear each week, that is certainly something to feel proud of. The bigger fears will take more time, but any work you do to overcome fear will lead to success.

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12. Success is learning something new each day.

Successful people understand that learning never stops. Take time each day to converse with someone with opposing views, read an interesting article on a topic you know little about, or watch a TED talk on new research. It doesn’t take long to learn, so get started now.

13. Success is learning that losing a few battles can help you win a war.

Successful people choose their battles wisely. When you know which battles will ultimately help you achieve your goals, you will be successful.

14. Success is loving and being loved back.

Opening your heart to others is difficult and can produce fear. Having the courage to love and accept love from others is a step toward a fulfilling life and great success.

15. Success is standing your ground when you believe in something.

Successful people never give up on things they believe with all their heart. You may hold views that many people disagree with, but if you’ve done your research and know that it’s the right belief for you, you shouldn’t let it go without a fight.

16. Success is not giving up.

Perseverance creates grit, and grit achieves success. Even if it takes years to achieve a goal, persisting is key if you want success.

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17. Success is celebrating small victories.

Anytime a goal is reached or an obstacle is overcome, take time to celebrate, even if it’s something small. All goals require smaller objectives to be achieved first, so each time you complete one, take time to appreciate the work you put into it.

18. Success is never letting a disability hold you back.

Disabilities do not define a person’s success. The body and mind will compensate. Just because you can’t do absolutely everything doesn’t mean you can’t do something. Do what your body and mind allow and always push yourself. That is true success.

19. Success is understanding that you control your destiny.

Your destiny is controlled by you and you alone. Take responsibility for your actions and their consequences and you’ll find that you naturally become more successful.

The Bottom Line

Success can be defined in many ways. If you are experiencing happiness, love, or adventure in this moment, you’ve already found success. Keep it up.

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Featured photo credit: Dino Reichmuth via unsplash.com

Reference

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