Gratitude journaling is the habit of recording and reflecting on things (typically three) that you are grateful for on a regular basis. In essence, you are rewiring your brain to focus more on the positive aspects of your life and build up resilience against negative situations. Keeping a gratitude journal is a popular practice in positive psychology - the scientific study of happiness. It’s commonly also referred to as “counting your blessings” or “three good things.”
Gratitude journals come in all shapes and sizes.
The physical format of your gratitude journal is not nearly as important as how you use it. Some people prefer to create a bullet-style journal with short entries, while others enjoy diving into their thoughts with longer posts. The goal of this article is to provide some tips, tricks, and research to help you find the best way to make it an effective habit for you.
Recent research in positive psychology suggests that practicing gratitude may increase overall feelings of happiness and reduce depressive symptoms. One of the most commonly cited research papers relating to gratitude journals is by Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough1. They ran three studies in which participants were instructed to record daily experiences:
“The gratitude-outlook groups exhibited heightened well-being across several, though not all, of the outcome measures across the 3 studies, relative to the comparison groups. The effect on positive affect appeared to be the most robust finding.”
Though you may start feeling the effects of keeping your gratitude journal early on, some research suggests that the benefits only become significant after a month of journaling and increase over time2. An initial happy “boost” may relate more to the excitement of starting a new habit; learning to focus on the good things requires a bit more time. Try to be patient with the process.
Gratitude seems like a simple enough concept, right? You can probably think of a few things right now: your family, your friends, health… that’s three, easy!
You'll really love our app.
Private gratitude journaling available for iPhone.Download
Effort and intentionality are the main ingredients to starting a successful gratitude journaling habit. As soon as your journal becomes another autopilot task (like checking your social newsfeed) it starts to lose its effectiveness.
If you are feeling stuck or need an extra nudge, try one of these gratitude journal prompts:
If you are anything like me, you probably love the feeling of pen and paper. I grew up taking notes in journals, notebooks, and countless loose-leaf sheets of paper. There’s something special about the way you can express thoughts on a blank piece of paper. Even the doodles you sketch in the margins can trigger memories or remind you of details you’d otherwise forget.
So, why would you ever want to ditch your notebook for a gratitude journal app?
First off, I don’t recommend completely replacing your journaling habits with an app on your phone or laptop. I like to think of the app (Happyfeed in this case) as a supplement to journaling. You might not be able to doodle in your app, but I’ll bet your old journals don’t have a camera, internet connection, or GPS.
Benefits of using an app:
Starting a gratitude journal is a very personal decision and you should create yours in the way that best suits you. This article is based on research and readings but heavily biased by my time keeping a gratitude journal (nearly 1300 completed days as of posting this). As you grow your habit, you’ll figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. Taking the effort to learn what makes you happy and how to best capture those feelings will benefit you in more ways than you might expect. I hope this article serves as a helpful framework for getting started or just staying on track.
If you’d like to chat about gratitude or share how journaling has helped you, please send me a message - I’d love to hear from you.
About the author.