What Is A Gratitude Journal And How Can It Help You?

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What are you grateful for? It’s a big question that's anything but easy to answer without giving it serious thought. But think about how much clarity you could gain about the many things there are in this world to be thankful for if you started writing it down.

A gratitude journal is a place where you can keep a daily record of all of the goodness in your life, both big and small. It is different from a diary in that it is not a collection of random thoughts, but rather, one that is specifically about things, moments, and people you are grateful to have in your life.

While you could be grateful for something quite big, such as winning a competition for example, or getting that big promotion you were working towards, cultivating an attitude of gratitude goes beyond the obvious. It is being tuned into even the smallest things in life that bring joy and happiness. It is about being present enough throughout the day to pick up on even the most trivial things that actually give more meaning to our lives. Think about witnessing a beautiful sunrise, watching children play in the park, enjoying a dessert brought over by a friend... Cultivating gratitude is about being more aware of the world around us beyond ourselves, and recognising and acknowledging the gifts bestowed upon us on a daily basis. 

Taking just a few minutes to reflect daily – or at least regularly – on what brings a smile to your face, can change the way you perceive life for the better. According to studies led by Robert Emmons, Professor of Psychology at UC Davis, USA, and author of Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, keeping a gratitude journal for as little as three weeks already yields physical, emotional, and social benefits, such as lower stress levels, improved relationships and a more positive outlook on life. And while it may take some discipline to get started and upkeep this new habit, the rewards are well worth the effort.

The Science of Gratitude

Gratitude is more than just an emotion. Glenn Foxx, a neuroscience expert who has conducted extensive research into the neural correlates of gratitude, empathy, and neuroplasticity, studied the effects of how gratitude manifests in the human brain. He found that not only does practicing gratitude help to release the feel-good chemical oxytocin ー which is also known as the “love hormone” ー but that it helps to promote social ties, helping to increase the amount of social bonding, reward, and stress relief one experiences through a change in brain structures. 

There are also several knock-on benefits to the practice of gratitude: being more aware of what we have is a key part of noticing the different facets of our individual worlds to be thankful for it, and developing this level of self-awareness and presence typically comes hand in hand with greater mindfulness. A wide range of other health benefits have been associated with the practice of gratitude, including better sleep, less depression, and more generosity. It makes sense, given the fact that being more grateful for our own lives ー and that boost in oxytocin ー naturally makes us want to “spread the love” so to speak, by being more kind, compassionate, empathetic, and giving towards others.  

Yet the fact that gratitude is an emotion also weaves itself into the picture of how it can help us, since research has found that our emotions can have a profound effect on how we feel, think, and behave. Studies have shown that the language we use can impact our emotions, and incorporating more gratitude-oriented words into our vocabulary can manifest positive influences throughout the different stages of the cycle of our thoughts, feelings, and behavior, helping to build a more positive relationship with ourselves and the world around us.

Give More Meaning To Your Life

Keeping a gratitude journal doesn’t necessarily mean that life will always be good, or that it has to be looked at through rose-coloured glasses. But it can certainly help put things into perspective一especially when the going gets tough. 

By jotting down all of the things that can bring joy and happiness throughout the day – something as small as the delectable taste of your favorite piece of chocolate, the memories behind a photograph, or the kind words from someone – you can remind yourself that while life has its ups and downs, difficult times always pass eventually, to give way to better days.

Improve Your Overall Well-being

Making time to think about and write down what we are thankful for boasts a slew of benefits. People who keep a regular gratitude journal report being less bothered by aches and pains, more motivated to exercise and follow a healthier lifestyle, and sleeping better. Research also shows other less obvious benefits, including feeling more alive, allowing more pleasure in life (thus decreasing the likelihood of depression), forging stronger bonds with friends and family, and experiencing less negative self-talk.

So how can you get going? Grab a piece of paper, your phone, or a notebook – whichever one works best for you – and just start. Keep it simple at first by thinking about the bigger picture: the people, places, things, and moments that bring you joy. For example, you could start by expressing gratitude for your family and friends, your job, or your latest holiday (no matter how long ago it was). You could even start with the absolute basics, such as being grateful for having a roof over your head each night, and food on your plate at mealtimes. Over time, you will get better at diving in deeper and going into more detail, such as expressing gratitude for something you are looking forward to, a piece of music that you love, or your children’s teachers if you have them.

So why not give gratitude journaling a try for three weeks and see how you feel afterwards? You may be positively surprised by how putting pen to paper (or whatever digital equivalent best suits you) can change your life in unexpected ways.

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All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals and other resources that influenced this article: Gratitude And Well Being: The Benefits Of Appreciation; Using A Gratitude Intervention To Improve The Lives Of Women With Breast Cancer: A Daily Diary Study; The Reciprocal Relationship Between Gratitude And Life Satisfaction: Evidence From Two Longitudinal Field Studies; Neural Correlates Of Gratitude.

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