Throughout the last decade, psychology researchers identified practices that can help us gain great social, mental, and physical health benefits that come from giving thanks. These benefits are particularly earned in the practice of gratitude journaling.
Studies have drawn a range of striking benefits to something as simple as writing down the things which we’re grateful for. Some of these benefits include better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, and more happiness among grownups and children alike. Sounds amazing, right?
What Got Me Into Gratitude Journaling
Two weeks ago, I wrote and published ‘See If You Can Catch Yourself Complaining’ from the idea that I caught myself complaining a lot for the WHOLE week. I had a lot on my mind and I wasn’t in the best mood. I knew that I had to find a solution, and the first thing that came to my mind is gratitude journaling.
That’s because a few of my readers responded to my blogs about how a gratitude journal has helped them in certain event or circumstances in their lives. Thinking back, a good friend bought me an all-in-one self-journal once. I had not found the need for it back then, but now, I decided it was time to put it to good use.
Basically, I have to write down my schedule, goals, and there is a small section where I have to write down three things I am grateful for in the morning and in the evening, every day for 13 weeks.
From Easy To Overwhelming
On day one, it was easy. I could fill in everything, from my schedule and goals to what I am grateful for. All done.
On day two, I struggled. I had no issues with filling in my schedule and goals, but I struggled with what to be grateful for. I thought to myself “am I this unappreciative in life?” It even held me back from having my typical productive day.
On day three, I was so done with it. Again, I could fill in my schedule and goals, but my mind went off on its own as my eyes kept staring at the blanks of the gratitude section. I could not think of anything to be grateful for.
After that, I continued journaling while looking into different gratitude journals, ranging from free downloadable PDF files to paid physical journals up to 30 dollars. Most of the journals, I had to fill in on a daily basis separated in the morning, afternoon and evening. Seriously, morning, afternoon and evening? Like how? Isn’t that overkill?
I felt overwhelmed by it and I got fed up because it felt like a daily task that consumes a lot of my time each day.
What Researchers Found Out
When I was digging into the research, I found that gratitude journals don’t always work. Some studies showed incredible benefits, others not so much. To understand why, I took a closer look at the research by Robert Emmons, perhaps the world’s leading expert on the science of gratitude according to ‘Greater Good Magazine.’
Emmons is a professor of psychology at the University of California and the founding editor-in-chief of ‘The Journal of Positive Psychology.’ He is the author of the books ‘Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier’ and ‘Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity.’
Emmons shared these research-based tips for gaining the greatest psychological rewards from keeping a gratitude journal:
- Make a firm conscious decision. Research by psychologists suggests that it is more effective if you first make the conscious decision to become happier and more grateful, instead of just going through the motions. Your motivation to become happier plays a role in the value of journaling.
- Depth over width. Elaborating in detail about one particular thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.
- Focus on “to who” instead of “I am.” Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.
- Subtract, instead of adding up. An effective way of stimulating gratitude is to reflect on what your life would be like without certain blessings, instead of adding up all those good things.
- Savour surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to cause stronger levels of gratitude.
- Don’t overdo it. Writing 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 described boosts in happiness; people who wrote three times per week didn’t.
Based on Emmons’s research, I want to put together a better and simplified gratitude journal. I believe that writing down on paper helps to organise our thoughts, accept our own experiences and put them in a clear context. The basic practice is straightforward, and the entries are supposed to be brief. Just a single sentence will do, ranging from the daily “he/she made me coffee,” to the uplifting “friends coming over,” to the undying “Michael Jackson.”
On last thing I want to leave you with: Emmons explains that “there is no one right way to do it.” There’s no evidence that journaling at the start of the day is any more effective than journaling before you go to bed.
You don’t need to buy a fancy gratitude journal to record your entries in. What’s important is to start. Start the habit of paying attention to gratitude-inspiring events in your life. Look a little deeper for the good and you might find yourself an abundance of blessings.
Originally published at ye-chen.com.
If you would like to receive a better and simplified gratitude journal, click here and scroll to the end to sign up and I will send it digitally to your inbox. I aim to have a final product at the start of October.
- Do you keep a gratitude journal?
- How often do you write in it?
- What benefits do you gain from gratitude journaling?
Have your say in the comment section 🙂
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