The Science Behind Gratitude Journals


Every day our internet feeds are stuffed full of dime a dozen articles on how to be happier in life. We get it. Its tiring having a bunch of strangers send out generic advice on how to find those perfect pockets of joy. We have all heard that yoga works wonders for stilling a sassy mind, that eating healthy helps heal the heart and that breathing techniques can quieten the roar of anxiety. But there’s another practice that seems to be making waves – its called the gratitude journal.


What is a Gratitude Journal?


Gratitude journals are exactly what they sound like - a little notebook of which to scribble all the things you are grateful for. While the idea of penning all the things you are thankful for may sound like an extended round of thanksgiving supper, there is actually some psychological science behind how the process works.

A gratitude journal means taking a few minutes daily or weekly (or whenever feels right) to sit down and make a note of all the things you are grateful for.  No moment or thing is too small or too silly to be included.


How Do Gratitude Journals Benefit Us?


There are times when we all get frustrated with the folk around us, when we all think the things we do are pointless, and the day to day grind can often feel a little overwhelming. All this can add up to a negative mindset. Combine this all with the fact that today’s political landscapes, our constant access to information, and social media can mean that we are more stressed than normal. While a gratitude journal won’t change the world we live in, it can help us to keep perspective even on the roughest of days.

There has been a ton of research into how journaling is beneficial to mental health. There is something about getting your thoughts out there that helps us to work through our ‘stuff’. Gratitude journals nurture this but with gentle encouragement to pay attention to the positive forces in our life rather than getting stuck on the negative.


What Does Science Actually Say?


Studies have shown that those who use gratitude journals report feeling less burnt out from their jobs, they are able to sleep better at night just by spending fifteen minutes with their journals, and they are reported to heal quicker from health problems.

According to UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center, having an attitude of gratitude changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeps grey matter functioning and keeps us healthy and happy which in turn has a positive impact on the central nervous system.


Are Gratitude Journals Just Spiritual Bypassing?


While gratitude practice seemingly comes with huge benefits both physically and mentally, we need to remember the importance of not putting the positive gloss on everything in our lives. Noting gratitude is important but so is recognizing red flags in our lives and making room for those negative feelings that help us to ascertain when something isn’t quite working out so we can do something about it. We are all told of the things we should be grateful for; health, a home, our families and friends. Sure, these things are certainly worthy of our gratitude but there’s also an emphasis on what we ‘should be’ grateful for. Life is full of should be’s and we can often feel guilty if we are practising gratitude without really feeling it.


How Do We Tackle Gratitude in a Healthy Way?

Psychologists say that the trick is to drip-feed gratitude into your life. It’s worth noting that one study from researchers showed that those who penned in their journals once a week for six weeks reported higher boosts in happiness than those who wrote in a gratitude journal three times a week. Psychologists attribute this to the fact that we are adaptable creatures and that it is easy for us to numb out to the good things in life even if we are making a concerted effort to recognize them.

The more specific you are able to get with the things you are putting down on paper the better. And it isn’t a numbers game either. If you only write one thing but it’s something you truly feel connected to its likely to have more of an impact than twenty things that don’t really sink in. It matters less about what you write, what matters more is how you feel when you write that thing down.

There is no right or wrong way to do the gratitude journal, but the science is there -it could just help shift our perspective and lead to lighter, lovelier lives.

Do you keep a gratitude journal? Share your thoughts in the comments.


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