I have always been inherently sceptical of things that seem too good to be true.
Oh, this serum made entirely of ground up unicorn teeth will make my hair double in volume? And it costs only $399? Yeah, I don’t think so.
So when I first heard about something called a ‘gratitude journal’, an alarm immediately went off inside my head.
Article after article promised that a gratitude journal was the answer to my anxiety, insomnia, stress… and all you had to do was write down a few of the things you’re grateful for every day.
Unsurprisingly, I was skeptical. But because a) I love to write, b) it costs nothing and c) I struggle to keep my anxiety in check I decided to give it a try.
And, as you’ve probably guessed by now, it worked. Why? How? This Gratitude Journal 101 post will answer all your questions and hopefully inspire you to try it as well!
Benefits of a gratitude journal
Let’s start by looking at some of the main benefits of keeping a gratitude journal, from health to productivity.
1. Gratitude lowers stress levels. Gratitude is a bit of a miracle worker in the stress department. It not only reduces stress – it may even help overcome more serious trauma.
A 2006 study in Behavior Research and Therapy showed that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Why is that? In a nutshell, recognising how much you have to be grateful for shifts your focus away from the negative aspects of your life. It seems overly simplistic, but it works.
2. Gratitude makes it easier to fall asleep. When your mind isn’t weighed down by an endless list concerns, falling asleep suddenly becomes much easier.
3. Gratitude increases self-esteem. Feelings of gratitude will stop you resenting those who have more money or better jobs – an important factor in reducing self-esteem.
4. Gratitude makes you kinder. Once your feelings of inferiority and resentment go away, it will become impossible for you not to be kind and compassionate.
That annoying person walking really slowly in front of you? Your new mindset will help you notice that it’s an old grandmother with a heavy bag who could use some help.
That crazy person humming a song on the train? Suddenly you’ll notice they’re not crazy – they’re just happy and so are you. Also, you’re humming along with them.
5. Gratitude helps you make friends. As if being positive and self-assured wasn’t enough to attract people to you, showing appreciation and kindness will make them completely adore you. A simple thank you goes a long way, as does a smile!
6. Gratitude makes you less self-centred. What? I get all that self-esteem stuff, but how will writing about your own feelings make you less self-centred?!
Instead of focusing on how _____ (clever, successful, pretty etc.) you are and deriving your happiness from that, suddenly your focus will shift to the outside world, other people and how their actions make you feel.
7. Gratitude makes you healthier. A journal entry a day keeps the doctor away! Or maybe not, but one thing is certain – positive emotions can improve your health.
Aside from making your mental wellbeing flourish thanks to a reduction in stress levels, gratitude also encourages healthy behaviour like exercising and eating well.
As your physical and mental health improve, you might also notice an uptick in your energy levels. And who doesn’t need that in today’s fast-paced world?
Picking a gratitude journal
Choosing the perfect gratitude journal can be as easy or difficult as you want it to be. On the one hand, your greasy physics notebook from fifth grade will do. On the other hand, is it something you’ll enjoy reaching for every day?
It’s good to find a gratitude journal that feels very you. Or, better yet, get a plain one and customise it yourself – be it with doodles, stickers or a fancy cover.
If you’re in the ain’t nobody got time for that camp, that’s fine as well. At the moment I’m using a geometric black-and-white hardcover notebook I bought for £1 in Tiger.
And if you don’t have time for that either? You can just use your phone – I do when I’m feeling particularly lazy.
Having said that, there’s something magical about having a tiny book filled with your happiest moments. Besides, if you decide to make gratitude journaling a morning ritual like I do it’s best to keep it electronics-free.
Keeping a gratitude journal
You’ve read up on the benefits, you’ve got yourself a cute gratitude journal, and you’re excited to begin… But where do you even start?
I’ve answered the most common questions below – if there is anything else you’d like to know, let me know in the comments below and I’ll add it in!
Morning or evening? It’s up to you when you write in your gratitude journal. I like doing it first thing in the morning because it helps me start my day off with a smile.
But many people find it easier to write in the evening, when the events of the day are still fresh in their mind.
How often? I try to write in my gratitude journal every day, but sometimes life gets in the way. And that’s ok. You should never feel pressured to write in your journal – it should be a beautiful part of your day, not a chore.
Some studies show that writing less regularly – just once or twice a week – is more beneficial than daily journaling. They argue that because people adapt to positive events quickly, our appreciation may decrease over time.
But I believe there’s no right and wrong here, so write in your journal as often as you’d like and get in the habit of focusing on the positive aspects of your daily life.
As Oprah once wrote about her gratitude journal (yes, she has one too!): “I just made gratitude a daily priority. I went through the day looking for things to be grateful for, and something always showed up.”
How long? Make your entries as long or as short as you need. I generally write down about 3-5 things – but somedays I cover three pages and there are days when I stare at a blank piece of paper for a few minutes before finally giving up.
You shouldn’t rush the process. Set aside enough time to really think about what you’re grateful for. Smile and reflect. Make it a ritual.
My ritual is simple and includes a few of the things I love. I sit in bed in my comfy PJs, with a cup of rooibos tea or glass of orange juice. It’s my favourite way to start the day – and it completely charges my batteries in less than 15 minutes!
What should I write? You can write about anything you like, from your family to the warm rays of sunshine pouring in through the window. The only recommendation I have is making your entries as specific as possible.
Don’t just write down that you’re grateful for pizza. Write down that you’re grateful because your friend bought you a slice of pepperoni – which just happens to be your favourite – when you were feeling down last night.
The more specific you are, the more you will get out of the exercise. You don’t have to be too deep though. If you’re grateful because your eyebrows are on fleek, write it down without fear of judgment.
Is it frivolous? Sure. But this is your life, your story and your gratitude.
What should I not write? I don’t think you should ever censor yourself and how you’re feeling. But that doesn’t mean some sources of gratitude aren’t better than others.
Being grateful for a new dress or even a new car can feel pretty powerful. But it’s nothing compared to being grateful for non-materialistic things like friendship or eye-opening travel experiences.
Where should I keep it? I keep my gratitude journal on my bedside table so that I can easily reach for it every morning without getting out of bed. #lazy
I like having my journal on display because simply looking at it gives me a sense of gratitude and reminds me of all the things that make me happy.
If you live in a shared flat and are worried about other people looking inside your journal, get a little lock for it. It should be for your eyes only and others have no business snooping around.
Should you re-read old entries? YES! Going back through your journal is especially useful when you’re having a bad day and can’t find a single thing to be grateful for.
It can give you the biggest boost of energy imaginable, for free and in less than a minute. I’ll take that over a $399 volumising hair serum – or even a new handbag – any day of the week.
Do you keep a gratitude journal? Did this post make you want to try? Let me know in the comments below!