Gratitude and thankfulness are hot topics these days: social media is filled with images of gratitude journals and other expressions of thankfulness. We wanted to dive into these concepts to understand why so many people are talking about them but more importantly, to understand whether recognizing and focusing on gratitude in our own lives could be a good thing. What we found is that beyond the beautiful Bullet Journals, Pinterest boards and Instagram posts highlighting the benefits of gratitude, there is scientific research that shows that expressing gratitude does actually make you happier.
The ins and outs of gratitude
Although the concept of gratitude is not a new one, actual research into how feeling gratitude affects us is relatively recent, having started in the early 2000’s. Since this research began, the psychologists performing the studies have found that people who practice gratefulness by keeping a gratitude journal benefit from the following things:
- They have more positive emotions, are more optimistic and are more satisfied with life (McCullough, Emmons and Tsang, 2002).
- They feel fewer negative emotions such as depression, anxiety and envy (McCullough, Emmons and Tsang, 2002).
- They have greater and more positive connections to the people around them (Wood et al., 2010).
If feeling more optimistic and satisfied, less anxious and depressed and more connected to those around you are things that you hope for, the great news is that it may be easier to get there than you think. The wonderful thing about expressing gratitude is that the effort required is relatively small when compared to the benefits that it can bring to our mental health. Let’s touch on some simple ideas for expressing gratitude to make this new habit one that you can embrace.
Finding time for gratitude: it’s easier than you think
One of the keys to introducing a new habit is to ease into it to avoid feeling overwhelmed. After all, the idea is for this new habit to make us feel better, not worse! With this in mind, we have good news for you backed by research done by psychologist Dr. Robert Emmons. A key finding has been that you do not need to get bogged down in worrying about how often you journal. The importance lies in the doing, not the frequency. Dr. Emmons research has shown that you do not need to write in your gratitude journal daily to feel the benefits. Find a journaling schedule that works for you, be it 3 times a week or even once a week and you will still reap the benefits.
Another key component of keeping a gratitude journal is being mindful of feeling grateful. Although this may sound obvious, research has found that being conscious of the goal to feel more grateful is essential and will help solidify any benefits gained from journaling. Take your time and dig deep: journaling in a conscious, mindful manner is much more effective than making quick “gratitude lists”. Focus on the most meaningful things to you. Don’t be afraid to focus on fewer, but more important items rather than having a long list of things for which you’re grateful. Life is full of gifts: see the positives in your life as gifts that you’re being given.
Being thankful for your relationships rather than your possessions will allow you to zero in on the essentials in your life. Shine the spotlight on people rather than on things. This will allow you to connect in a greater way with what can truly bring more peace and happiness to your life.
For all of us planners, learning to embrace the unexpected can have awesome effects. Appreciate and be grateful for the surprises in your life! Positively focussing on these types of events can bring us opportunities and joy that we could have missed before.
Starting on the road to gratitude
If you’re looking for inspiration, there are plenty of beautiful gratitude journals out there to emulate. But if calligraphy, penmanship, spelling and/or grammar are not your thing, that is ok! None of those are what gratitude journaling are all about. The important thing is carving out some space and time to recognize and appreciate the good in your life. Find a notebook that you like and that inspires you or add an app such as Gratefulness to your phone and start writing.
If you would like to start a gratitude journal but feel like you have writer’s block, we find that brainstorming a list of topics that can inspire you can help get you going. If you’re still feeling a little uninspired, check out this list to help kickstart the process:
- Think of someone who helped you or who you helped
- Describe the most beautiful thing that you saw today
- Focus on a challenge that you faced and what you learned from it
- Recount something that you learned easily
- Recount something that you learned with difficulty
- Describe something that you created
- Describe something that you accomplished today, even if it was “small”
- Remember something delicious that you ate
- Remember someone that made you laugh
- Remember something that you did that made someone else laugh or smile
- Remember something nice that someone said to you
- Focus on a holiday that’s being planned
- Remember a special family event
- Laugh about something crazy/funny that you did
- Look around and describe something from your daily life that you find beautiful
- Describe how your husband/wife/children/best friend made you smile or brightened your day
These ideas are just a starting point. Your imagination and life experiences will be your guide in this journey. As with any new habit, the daunting part can be in getting started. Don’t let this hold you back. Know that with practice, this can become part of your routine and can bring you a newfound sense of peace, fulfilment and joy.