Looking for a simple, easy way to improve your outlook and transform the way you think? There’s a research-backed solution that’s far easier to apply to your everyday life than you might expect. Gratitude journals may seem like a fluffy concept to someone struggling, but they can make a genuine impact that could change the way you view yourself, your circumstances, your relationships, and the world around you.
There are a variety of clinical studies that show how increasing our levels of gratitude can improve our emotional and physical well-being. This is no vague concept designed to stir up ‘feel-good’ emotions with no empirical backing. A 2015 study from China revealed that improved levels of gratitude can increase self-esteem and even reduce feelings of depression and suicidal ideation. Other studies have shown that keeping a gratitude journal (even when just writing for as little as 5 minutes a day) can help us maintain a more optimistic attitude, improve our friendships, boost our romantic relationships, and help us feel more spiritually connected. One study even showed that a regular gratitude practice, whether through journaling or other means, can enhance your concentration and help you develop stronger resilience in the face of difficulty or stress.
The science is there. We know that embracing a more grateful outlook on what’s going on in our lives can do a number of wonderful things for our overall happiness and health. So how do you start?
The simplest way and most practical tool for improving your feelings of gratitude is to use a journal. A gratitude journal can
be used in a number of ways, depending on your personality and style of thinking. For some, it can be a great way to start off the day on a positive note. Rather than rolling out of bed and immediately leaping into a series of negative thoughts about the various aspects of the day that you’re dreading, you can grab the journal on your bedside table and quickly scribble down several things that you’re grateful for. You should find that your mood adjusts and your morning (and hopefully your day as a whole) improves accordingly.
Alternatively, gratitude journaling is a wonderful way to end off your evening, particularly if you’ve faced difficulties during the day. While it may be tempting to wallow in negative thoughts over a glass of wine or numb out in front of the TV, it’s far healthier to sit down with your journal and consider what aspects of the day, or your life in general, you’re grateful for, despite the difficult day. By taking your negative thoughts and essentially encouraging your brain to focus on positive feelings and associations, you’re on your way to practicing a form of self-taught Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and replacing your previously negative mindset with a brighter outlook. The effects of this practice can be profound.
For some people, especially those struggling with moderate to severe depression, chronic illness, or other more heavy-duty struggles, sitting with their notebook and forcing the practice of gratitude journaling can be difficult to do on a daily basis. There’s no shame in starting small. Aim to incorporate at least 1 gratitude list each week – even if you don’t feel able to write down more than a few things. You may find that it’s easier than you expected. Gradually increase that number until you’re ready to start making longer, more authentic lists as your outlook improves. Others may find it easier to start out working with their journal on a daily basis – that’s okay. We’re all unique individuals and your journey is your own.
What If It Doesn’t Work?
While there is scientific backing for the efficacy of gratitude journaling on self-esteem, mood, and relationship-building, that doesn’t mean it will be life-changing for everyone. If you’re battling big issues in your life and keeping your daily list doesn’t seem to be making much of a dent in your negative emotions or behaviours, despite keeping at it for some time, it’s time to reach out and ask for more specialist support. That’s where a qualified therapist can step in to help you process your worries and problems, offer a safe space to open up, and help you work toward solutions that meet your specific needs.