Keeping a gratitude journal is more than just an exercise in perfecting your penmanship. It’s also a way to improve your outlook on life, improve relationships, improve your physical health, benefit your mental health, and much more. Sound amazing? Well, it’s all true, and it’s even been scientifically proven.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How Keeping a Gratitude Journal Benefits Your Mental Health and Wellbeing
- How to Know if a Gratitude Journal Is Working for You
- Reasons Why Gratitude Journaling Might Not Work for You
Keeping a gratitude journal has benefits that impact nearly every area of your life. If you’ve been thinking about starting a journal, you might just go out and purchase yourself a notebook to get started once you learn about the many ways this little exercise will benefit your life.
How Keeping a Gratitude Journal Benefits Your Mental Health and Wellbeing
Are you thinking of starting a gratitude journal? We can just about guarantee you’ll want to jump into the practice after you discover all the ways this habit can improve your life. Here are some of the best benefits that gratitude journaling can provide.
1. Improves mental health
This one usually tops the list when it comes to the benefits of various extra-curricular activities like exercising, playing an instrument, gardening, or enjoying a hobby. Journaling is no exception to the rule. If you get no other benefit out of this habit, you’ll almost always enjoy an improvement to your mental health if you journal on a regular basis.
When you journal about gratitude, you train your mind to focus on the good things in your life instead of the negative. You start training yourself when you sit down to journal each day or week. Then, after a while, you’ll find yourself looking for the good during your journaling exercise and the ordinary moments of life, as well.
When your mind stops focusing on the negative and instead looks for the positive, you’ll find yourself enjoying life more, feeling more satisfied with how life is going, and enjoying an overall sense of mental wellbeing.
2. Helps with processing emotions
This life is filled with emotions. Whether you’re happy because it’s your birthday, thoughtful because you’re thinking of switching careers, or sad because a loved one passed away, the emotions you experience are part of your daily life. Because life is so fast-paced, it can be hard to find time to process the emotions you feel.
Journaling is an excellent way to express grief and gratitude during the ups and downs of life. When you consistently journal, you’ll find that some days are easier to journal about things you’re thankful for than others. One day you might be feeling especially grateful because you’ve received a promotion. Another day you might be feeling sad or lonely due to the loss of a friend.
No matter what you’re experiencing, you can process these emotions and turn your emotions into an exercise in gratitude. Here are some questions to help guide your processing while focusing on gratitude.
If you’re dealing with grief and loss:
- List five things you’re thankful for about the person who passed.
- Share what you appreciated the most about the person.
- What is one life lesson you learned from them, and why is it important?
- How has the person you lost made your life better?
If you’re dealing with a job loss:
- What are three things you learned from your job?
- What is one way you’ve grown through your job?
- How are you better prepared to face uncertainty now?
If you’re dealing with a happy circumstance like a promotion:
- What is one reason why you’re glad to receive a promotion?
- Why are you pleased that you received a compliment on a job well done?
- Share how life got you to the place you’re at and why you’re thankful to be there.
3. Reduces stress levels
Stress can pile up and become overwhelming if not dealt with. Though short-term stress may not always be a bad thing, long-term and chronic stress levels can lead to illness, memory loss, depression, insomnia, and a whole host of other physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual issues.
There are many ways to show gratitude, and the best part is that each method is shown to reduce stress levels when consistently practiced. This is true for gratitude journaling, as well. When you focus on the good things in life, rather than the pressures and frustrations that are causing you stress, you’ll find that your stress levels get lowered as a byproduct.
Journaling provides an outlet to discuss the good and hard things in life in a judgment-free zone. Thinking about the good can help provide clarity for what is not going well in your life. This can lead you to take action and improve your circumstances, further leading to reduced stress.
4. Boosts physical health
It might come as a surprise, but the art of regularly journaling about things you’re grateful for can actually improve your physical health. While you may not be out there running a marathon, gratitude journaling can have some of the same benefits on your health as running, walking, jogging, and other cardiovascular activities.
So, just what can this habit do for your physical well-being? In several studies, it’s been shown that journaling about things you’re thankful for improves your heart rate, can improve blood sugar levels, and decreases blood pressure. Journaling even has the ability to improve your overall health so much that it can lead to fewer doctor visits and fewer complaints.
The good news is that the physical benefits received have been noted with any type of consistent focus on gratitude. That means you might journal every day or just once a week, and either way, you’ll still reap the rewards. As long as you consistently spend time on a regular basis practicing the habit of gratitude, you should see some physical benefits.
5. Promotes better sleep
Thinking about things to be grateful for just before you close your eyes for the night can be a surefire way to promote better sleep. Why? Because when you turn your mind to things that are going well in your life, you stop stressing and obsessing over all the things that could be going wrong. This practice helps quiet your mind and helps you relax. Naturally, the more you relax, the better quality of sleep you tend to get.
If you want to focus on better sleep, try keeping a nightly gratitude journal instead of making your entries during the daytime. Take some time just before you turn off the lights to think about the good things. Do this consistently for a week or two and see if you don’t just end up enjoying deeper and longer sleep.
How to Know if a Gratitude Journal Is Working for You
So, how do you know if you’re gaining from the benefits of a gratitude journal? Here are some ways to know if it’s working.
1. You’re smiling more
One byproduct of gratitude is smiling. Smiles tend to pop out naturally when we think of things we’re thankful for. If you notice yourself smiling more than you used to, journaling is probably doing the trick.
2. You’re more positive
Have you been a glass-half-empty type of person, and now you see things through a glass-half-full mentality? Gratitude journaling can tend to do that for you. When you journal, you start to change the way you look at life, and a more positive outlook can definitely be a byproduct.
3. You enjoy life more
When you focus on the good things in life, you tend to start looking for them. As you notice someone’s kindness, the sun on your face, or a particularly good meal, you’ll begin enjoying these things more instead of ignoring them and taking them for granted.
Reasons Why Gratitude Journaling Might Not Work for You
What if you aren’t experiencing the benefits of gratitude journaling? There are several things that might be hindering the benefits generally received from this practice. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Journaling is inconsistent
The benefits of gratitude journaling have only been shown to prove true for those who actively and consistently journal. This means you set aside a regular time to journal daily, nightly, or even weekly. The key is that you consistently set aside a time and place to journal.
Results do tend to go down the less frequently you journal. So, if you want to get the most out of your journaling time, try to stick with daily or nightly journaling. If you only have time once each week, that’s okay, but you might not experience as many benefits. If you journal less than once a week, you probably won’t notice any benefits at all.
2. You have too much on your plate
Is life completely overwhelming, leaving you with less than five minutes of free time to get in a journal entry? If so, this might not be the best time to add one more thing to your already overloaded plate. Journaling shouldn’t introduce one more thing for you to stress over because you don’t know how you’re going to fit it in.
If you have too much going on, see if you can eliminate something before you introduce the practice of journaling. If you can’t remove anything from your already packed schedule, you might need to wait to begin this practice.
3. You need a bigger life change
If you’re able to start the journaling habit, but no matter what you do, nothing seems to be working, and your outlook on life is overwhelmingly negative, you might need a bigger change. This could mean you need to seek out counseling or set up a doctor’s appointment. It could mean you need to change jobs, take some responsibilities off your shoulders, or move locations.
There are many reasons why life might be so overwhelming that gratitude journaling isn’t helping you out. The key is to examine what is happening in your life to cause you such stress and determine what you can do about it. After you figure that out, you might just have something to journal about!
Improving Your Life by Journaling
While gratitude journaling may not fix every issue, it can help improve your mental, physical, emotional, and overall health. By incorporating this practice into your daily routine, you’ll find that life looks a little brighter, stressors become a little less impactful, and you feel better about your decisions, career, and relationships.
- Algoe, Sara; Hilaire, Nicole; Kurtz, Laura. “Putting the ‘You’ in Thank You.” Social Psychological and Personality Science, NCBI, 7 June 2016. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
- Atkins, Samuel; Joseph, Stephen; Lloyd, Joanna, Wood, Alex. “Gratitude Influences Sleep.” Journal of Psychosomatic Research, NCBI, 22 November 2008. Pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
- Cheng, Sheung-Tak; Tsui, Pui Ki; Lam, John H. M. “Improving Mental Health.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, APA Psych Net, February 2015. Psycnet.apa.org.