Are Gratitude Journals Worth Keeping?
Your outlook on life is, like everything, on a spectrum.
Some just naturally feel cheerier than others.
For those that find it harder to access their happy state there are various techniques that can help. One of those is making yourself aware of the positive things in your life.
It sounds silly at first but it’s a powerful exercise that many of us can benefit from.
As the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker writes in his excellent book Enlightenment Now, whilst we might not think it, we’re living in a golden age of health, peace, prosperity, and many other things.
And yet, our reported levels of happiness have not increased at the same rate. Part of the reason is related to how much we take for granted.
For those living in the Western world and increasing parts of the developing world, life is no longer a daily struggle for survival. Go back a few hundred years and this would not have been the case for the majority.
The result is that we nitpick over the smallest of things and gravitate towards the negative.
A gratitude journal can be a simple way to reverse this.
It is, quite literally, a diary of things for which one is grateful. The idea is that even if you’ve had a bad day, try to pick one positive thing that happened and write about it.
You can even take it a step further and compare any misfortune you experience with an even worse scenario which can give you some perspective and help you to see the situation for what it really is.
But does it really work?
What the science says
Research has shown that people who keep regular ‘gratitude journals’ report fewer physical symptoms, more enthusiasm, determination and energy, more sleep, more exercise and more progress towards personal goals.
That’s a lot of benefits that all ladder up to higher levels of happiness.
The evidence also demonstrates that the act of writing about things you’re grateful for has a much stronger emotional impact than merely speaking or thinking about them.
5 tips for keeping a gratitude journal
Whilst there is no perfect way to keep a note of what you’re thankful for these pointers may help:
1) Avoid the temptation to over do it. Studies by the author of the book The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Sonja Lyubomirsky found that people who journaled about gratitude once or twice a week were happier than those doing it daily.
2) Focus on people over things. Time invested in quality relationships will always bring more happiness than material items.
3) Go for quantity over quality. Elaborating in detail about one thing for which you’re grateful is better than a long list of superficial things.
4) Make a conscious effort. Don’t just go through the motions. Focus on what you’re writing about and take the time to properly reflect on it.
5) Think about the flip side. What are you grateful for that you don’t have in your life?