Is it worth making the time and effort to keep a gratitude journal? We asked the experts to weigh in…
Hands up, who kept a diary as a teenager? They are a great way to release emotions during the tumultuous time that is adolescence, but so many of us drop the habit once we reach our 20s. However, what if we told you that cracking open a fresh notepad and recording what you’re thankful for could bring benefits ranging from improved self-awareness to feeling happier? Sounds good, right? Here’s why it’s time to leave behind the idea that a diary is only to be filled with teenage angst, and pick up a pen to start recording all the great things that happen to us each day.
What is gratitude?
As children, we’re frequently reminded to ‘mind our Ps and Qs’, but being grateful is about much more than just saying ‘thank you’, as wellness expert and founder of Adira Lifestyle, Emily Wysock-Wright (adiralifestyle.com), tells us. “It’s really about not taking things, or people, for granted and realising a sense of appreciation and thankfulness for everything in your life, however large or small. It’s believed that those who are ‘grateful’ tend to be happier, healthier and feel more fulfilled – and isn’t that what we all want?” Research has proven this time and time again – one study by the University of Pennsylvania asked people to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for their kindness. The researchers found that the participants experienced a huge increase in happiness scores, an effect that lasted for a month.
Appreciate the small things
However, it’s not just other people we should be thankful for – it’s other things, too. “Many of us are guilty of living our days in an often subconsciously negative mindset,” says Emily. “We are inadvertently complaining about ‘our lot’, be it concerning material matters, relationships or work, we find ourselves feeling constantly dissatisfied and hard done by, and we begin to complain. Of course, we all feel life’s pressures, but in doing so, we can miss the good and the beauty of what is all around us, so we end up taking things for granted and don’t always take the necessary time to appreciate what we really have. Gratitude is a health choice that can leave you feeling happier and more optimistic.”
How can I be more grateful?
“The first step is to acknowledge the things we are grateful for but, more importantly, to cultivate the feeling of gratitude,” Emily explains. “Our head may say of course we’re grateful, but we really need to feel it. To become aware and gain some perspective, I recommend you begin to write down all of the things you could be grateful for. Here are some suggestions:
- How are your finances? Do you have savings? Is your money well managed?
- How are things at work? Do you still enjoy your job? Are you grateful to have one?
- How is your social life and love life? Are you loved and accepted by your friends and family? Do you have a great partner and friends?
- Do you have goals in your life? Do you know where you are going? Are you on your way to reaching your goals?
- How do you feel about your body? Are you healthy?
- Do you have a lot of energy? Are you eating well?
- How is your home? Are you happy where you live?
- Do you like what you have or do you want more? What are you longing for?
“Once you’ve got your list, look at it every day to gain focus and determine how the rest of your day will go. By writing it down and adding to it, you are imprinting yourself with gratitude.”
How to start a journal
Once you’ve written these down, consider making it a daily habit. You don’t need a fancy notebook to begin your gratitude journal – so you can start the practice today. “How you format your journal doesn’t matter much, as long as it makes sense to you,” says Niels Eék, psychologist and cofounder of the mental wellbeing platform, Remente (remente.com). “Some people prefer to write down three bullets or one sentence, while others like to dive deeper with a longer entry, on a daily or weekly basis. Some prefer to have an allocated gratitude journal and some like to track it in their daily calendar, via an app or on a blackboard in their home. The most important thing, though, is that whatever medium and format you choose, it works for you and becomes an effective habit that benefits you in the long run.”
What are the benefits?
“Several studies have found that people who write down the things they’re grateful for each day quickly become more optimistic and feel better about their lives in general,” explains Niels. “Journaling provides us with the opportunity to reflect upon, acknowledge and process emotions we might otherwise not reach. Consequently, journaling regularly can help to improve our overall sense of self-awareness.” Mindset coach and author, Ruth Kudzi (ruthkudzi.com), agrees, adding that keeping a journal can reframe the way you see things. “Life is busy and demands can cause stress, but by putting things down on paper and seeing the good in each day, you will look at things in a new way,” she says. “As you start to write, you will find that you build new neural pathways where you look for the positive, not the negative, in your day. If you write down three good things each night for the day you’ve just had, you will soon start to seek out the positive things and find the silver lining in even the most challenging of situations. As well as that, a gratitude journal helps to encourage emotional wellbeing. By setting this time aside, you will have the space to sit down, reflect and take time out of your schedule – which is something we all need as a starting point to a clear mind and better self-care.”
How to cultivate gratitude…
… In one minute
Say aloud to yourself three things that you’re happy about each day, no matter how small. You can share these with your family, and encourage them to do the same, or do this alone.
… In five minutes
Take the time to properly thank someone for helping you – whether it’s a sibling, a friend or a work colleague. Go out of your way to let them know how much you appreciated what they did – it’ll make their day, and you’ll feel good, too.
… In 10 minutes
“I recommend finding or blocking out some time, whether that’s morning or evening, to write in your journal,” advises Emily. “I like to do mine in the morning once I’ve taken my daughter to school and I have 10 minutes to myself and nice cup of coffee! I also suggest keeping a note of these points at the front of your journal so you can refer back to them.”
Date (this is so important for when you reflect back) ………………………………….
Today I am grateful for: …………………………………. ………………………………….
Five reasons why: ………….. …………………………………. ………………………………….
The feeling I experience when I’m grateful for………. …………………………………. ………………………………….