Gratitude Journaling

By: Lauryn Gladd

Personally, I love Thanksgiving. The feast, the fall weather, the family reunion- I’m here for it. However, I can’t help but wonder why we save all our statements of gratitude for one day. It feels good to acknowledge what we are thankful for, so why not make it a part of our daily routine?

Gratitude Journaling “involves making written lists of several things for which one is grateful on a regular basis” (Wood et al., 2010). One common way to do this is to write three to five things you are grateful for before going to bed. In one study, participants that practiced gratitude journaling on a regular basis “reported considerably more satisfaction with their lives as a whole, felt more optimism about the upcoming week, and felt more connected with others than did participants in the control condition” (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).

In fact, a five-minute daily gratitude journal “can increase your long-term well-being by more than 10 percent” (Happier Human, 2020). When research participants were simply tasked with writing three things that went well each day and their causes every night for one week, they reported “increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms for six months” (Seligman et al., 2005). As expected, the long-term effects of the journaling exercise “were most pronounced for those who continued the exercises on their own” (Seligman et al., 2005).

Why could this be? Gratitude is “part of a wider life orientation towards noticing and appreciating the positive in the world” (Wood et al., 2010). Taking a moment to relax and reflect on the good things in life instead of ruminating on the bad leads to a variety of mental health benefits. Gratitude has been found to increase self-esteem and enhance optimism (Ackerman, 2021). In addition, gratitude helps us deal with adversity and relish good experiences (Harvard Health, 2021). I think Ferris Bueler said it best: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I was originally skeptical about the true effectiveness of gratitude journaling, so I decided to try it out myself. I bought my little green spiral flip book from CVS for $1.50 a little over a month ago. My entries range anything from “Banana bread” to “Caring and thoughtful parents.” Some other honorable mentions: “Hillary for lending me her fanny pack” and “The nice lady who let me use her membership discount at Kroger.” 

Gratitude journaling can be anything you make it to be. For me, it has become a small form of self-care as a part of my nighttime routine. Even on a bad day, I can think of five things, no matter how small they are, that I am grateful for. I’ve noticed that I usually feel calmer after writing these small moments or thoughts down. It feels as though I am recognizing elements of my life that I might overlook otherwise. 

It’s important to realize that gratitude journaling is not a magic switch that automatically makes you happier. While research has shown that it improves mental health overtime, gratitude journaling is different for everyone, so it is important to engage with what works best for you. Consider it as another tool you can add to your repertoire along your mental health journey. 

Prompts to Get Your Gratitude Journal Started

  • Someone who made you smile
  • Something good that surprised you
  • Favorite meal of the day
  • Something you feel fortunate to have
  • Some place you feel at ease
  • Something about yourself that you are proud of
  • Someone you can count on
  • Some activity you enjoyed doing
  • Something within 10 feet of you
  • Favorite part of the day

Reference List:

Ackerman, C. (2021, September 10). 28 benefits of Gratitude & Most Significant Research Findings. PositivePsychology.com. Retrieved October 17, 2021, from https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-gratitude-research-questions/. 

Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377−389.

Giving thanks can make you happier. Harvard Health. (2021, August 14). Retrieved October 17, 2021, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier. 

Happier Human. (2020, August 1). 31 benefits of Gratitude: The Ultimate Science-backed guide. Happier Human. Retrieved October 17, 2021, from https://www.happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/#more-619. 

Wood, A. M., et al., Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration, Clinical Psychology Review (2010), doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.005

Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–421. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066x.60.5.410 

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