Advertising
Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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:

Advertising

“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

Advertising

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.

How to Be Happy Again: 13 Simple Ways to Shake off Sadness Now How to Attain Self Realization (Step-By-Step Guide) 17 Tactics to Drastically Improve Communication in Relationships 15 Ways Meditation Benefits Your Brain Power and Your Mood 8 Signs of a Toxic Relationship and How to Save Yourself from It

Trending in Mental Strength

1 40 Acts of Kindness to Make the World a Better Place 2 7 Tips for Overcoming Challenges in Life Like a Pro 3 10 Ways to Live an Intentional Life 4 17 Ways for Building Resilience and Staying Tough 5 How to Have Self-Control and Be the Master of Your Life

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

Advertising

Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

Advertising

How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

Advertising

Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

Read Next