Five-Minute Gratitude Journal
Some days, you say “thank you” a dozen or more times. Someone brings you coffee, so you say, “thank you.” Someone else grabs lunch, so you say “thanks” once again. These small acts of kindness continue throughout the day, so you say “thank you” repeatedly.
You might think that saying thank you is an example of gratitude, but true gratitude runs deeper than that. While thanking someone is an action, true gratitude is an emotion with measurable effects (Courtney E. Ackerman, 2020). It’s the act of showing a deep appreciation for something or someone and produces positive, long-lasting results.
The concept is quite simple, but only 44 percent of men and 52 percent of women express gratitude regularly, according to a survey commission by the John Templeton Foundation (ALLEN, 2018). That means that only around half of people enjoy the benefits of gratitude.
Fortunately, there’s an easy solution to this problem. You can start a five-minute gratitude journal. Simply writing about the people and things you’re most grateful for will allow you to express gratitude. Then, you can enjoy the life-changing benefits.
Let’s begin by exploring the scientific reasons that you should start a gratitude journal. Then, let’s go over some tips to help you get the most out of the experience.
Journaling Your Way to Better Mental Health
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately one in five American adults have a mental illness. (National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.). Coping with mental illness can be extraordinarily difficult, causing researchers to look for ways to alleviate symptoms.
With that in mind, researchers conducted a study to determine if gratitude writing improves the mental health of psychotherapy clients. The results were published in the journal “Psychotherapy Research.” (Y. Joel Wong, 2016).
Researchers followed around 300 subjects. All of the subjects were adults, and most were college students. The participants had set up appointments for mental health counseling but had yet to attend their first session. Researchers evaluated the participants and discovered that most of them struggled with anxiety and depression and had low levels of mental health.
The researchers assigned the people into three groups. Each group received counseling to help with their mental health. In addition:
- Group one wrote one gratitude letter to another individual each week for a total of three weeks.
- Group two wrote about thoughts and feelings regarding negative situations and experiences.
- Group three was the control group. The people in this group didn’t have any assignments, except for attending therapy.
The results were stunning. Group one, which wrote a gratitude letter a week for three weeks, had significant improvements in mental health when compared to the other two groups. These improvements were first noted four weeks after they wrote the last gratitude letter. The results were even better 12 weeks after writing the last letter.
This led the researchers to realize that gratitude can help people who have significant mental health issues. Then, the researchers looked closer at the results to find out how gratitude writing impacts mental health. They found four ways that gratitude changes your brain (JOEL WONG, 2017).
1 – It Removes Toxic Thoughts and Emotions
The researchers poured over the writing provided by groups one and two, seeing how often each group used negative emotion words, positive emotion words, and first-person plural words. As you would expect, group one:
- Used more positive emotion words.
- Used fewer negative emotion words.
- Used more first-person plural words.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Using a higher percentage of positive emotion words and first-person plural words didn’t seem to impact mental health. Instead, using fewer negative emotion words garnered the best results.
The researchers believe that gratitude writing creates a shift in thinking. When people write in a gratitude journal, they are less likely to focus on the negative. When they don’t focus on the negative, they feel happier overall. Instead of ruminating on what’s wrong with the world or their lives, they put their energy into thinking about everything they have to be grateful for, and that makes them happier.
2 – Gratitude Doesn’t Have to Be Shared
Some people think that they have to express gratitude to others to benefit from it. That’s caused some to shy away from writing in a private five-minute gratitude journal. However, the researchers discovered that you could enjoy the same benefits of gratitude, even if you keep your journal to yourself.
During the study, the researchers gave people the option of sharing their gratitude writing or keeping it private. Seventy-seven percent of the participants decided to keep their writing private. Communicating the gratitude was enough in both cases to provide a boost.
This is proof that keeping a private gratitude journal can help your mental health. While you can share it with others if you want, that’s not necessary.
3 – The Results Don’t Appear Immediately
The researchers evaluated the study’s groups one week after they stopped writing. At that time, there wasn’t a difference in their mental health. However, they noticed a marked difference four weeks after writing the last gratitude letter. Their mental health improved even more at 12 weeks. It takes time to change your brain, so if you write today, it could take weeks to see the full benefits.
If you’ve ever worked toward a long-term change, you know that this is not unusual. It takes time to change your brain and create a long-lasting change. The time you put into it is well worth it.
4 – The Effects Are Long-Lasting
This is the most exciting of the findings. The researchers evaluated some of the participants approximately three months after they joined the study. They used an fMRI scanner on some of the participants who wrote letters and some who didn’t.
While scanning their brains, the researchers had the participants complete a task. A benefactor gave each participant a small amount of money with the instructions to give some of the money to someone else if they felt gratitude. Then, each participant got to decide how much money he or she wanted to donate to a charitable cause.
The researchers realized that some people might donate money out of obligation or guilt, so they had them rate:
· The level of gratitude toward the benefactor.
· How much they wanted to help a charity.
· The level of guilt they’d experience if they didn’t donate any money.
· How grateful they feel daily.
The researchers noticed that brain activity differs between people who felt guilt or gratitude. Also, they realized that people who have higher levels of gratitude in daily life donated more money.
Finally, the researchers discovered that the people who wrote the gratitude letters had more activity in the medial prefrontal cortex when they were feeling grateful. This caused the researchers to believe that gratitude writing can lead to long-term changes in the brain. That means you can enjoy long-term benefits.
Other Benefits of Gratitude
In case the mental health benefits aren’t enough, there are other reasons to start and maintain a gratitude journal. Let’s go over some of the top reasons you should keep a gratitude journal.
You have ample opportunities to practice patience. From standing in long lines to waiting for your Amazon order, it seems like your patience is constantly tested. If you have issues with patience, you can overcome them with the help of a gratitude journal.
Researchers from Northeastern University discovered that gratitude is linked to patience (SIFFERLIN, 2016). The study was authored by David DeSteno and Leah Dickens and published in the journal “Emotion (Dickens, 2016).”
The researchers had 105 study subjects use a computer to complete a task. Each time a subject was close to finishing the task, the computer broke. A researcher then entered the room and told the subject that the computer would be fixed, but the work would not be saved. The subject would have to restart the task.
There was also an actor inside the room. He helped the subject fix the computer, bringing it back to life immediately. Best of all, the work was saved.
Most of the subjects felt a lot of gratitude toward the person who fixed the computer. They were happy that they didn’t have to restart the task, so they were grateful.
The researchers measured the levels of gratitude over a three-week period. Those who felt the highest levels of gratitude during the computer incident also had the highest levels of gratitude as the study continued.
Then, after three weeks, the researchers started the next part of the study. All of the participants were offered money. They could take the money that day or get more money if they waited. Those who were more grateful were more likely to wait for a bigger payday, illustrating the link between gratitude and patience.
DeSteno refers to gratitude as a “self-control buffer.” People who are more grateful have an easier time waiting. They are more likely to resist temptation so they can get a more favorable outcome down the road.
Simply being grateful isn’t enough, though. You need to focus on some of the little things you’re grateful for to maximize the benefits. If you only focus on the big things, you’ll suffer from gratitude burnout. You’ll desensitize yourself to the gratitude, so it won’t be as effective.
Improved Levels of Self-Care
Do you lack in the self-care department? It could come down to gratitude. The journal “Personality and Individual Differences” published a study that showed a correlation between gratitude and physical health (Patrick L. Hill, 2014). Researchers discovered that people who are the most grateful are also the most likely to eat healthy foods, exercise, and go to the doctor. They believe that when you express gratitude, you are more likely to appreciate your physical self. You will want to take care of your body.
A study published in the “Journal of Theoretical Social Psychology” discovered that gratitude is an effective way to improve your romantic relationship (MAISEL, 2010). When you express gratitude toward your partner, your satisfaction level will increase. It can bring you and your partner closer together. The key is for both you and your partner to write in gratitude journals. If you’re the only one expressing gratitude, it will be more difficult to optimize the benefits.
More Control Over Food
Overeating can seem close to impossible to overcome. Whether you like the sweet or the salty, overindulging is becoming increasingly common around the world. Worldwide obesity almost tripled from 1975 to 2020, according to the World Health Organization. Also, more than 1.98 billion adults in the world are overweight (World Health Organization, 2020).
Keeping a five-minute gratitude journal could be the key to overcoming problems with food. Remember how gratitude increases patience? That’s partly because it improves willpower. Willpower is needed to overcome overeating.
A gratitude journal also helps you improve your mindset. When you have a powerful mindset, you are more likely to feel motivated. Also, it helps you handle the stress that often causes you to reach for your favorite foods (Jessica Cording, n.d.). The next time you feel the urge to grab a donut, reach for your journal instead.
Around 30 percent of people in the United States suffer from some form of sleep disruption (The National Sleep Foundation, 2020). If you don’t get enough sleep, you can suffer from cognitive and health issues. A study published in the “Journal of Psychosomatic Research” reveals that gratitude could be your answer to sleep issues (Alex M.Wood, 2008 ).
When you keep a gratitude journal, you’re more likely to have positive thoughts throughout the day and when you get into bed. This can soothe you and make it easier to sleep. Along with falling asleep easier, you can even sleep longer. Also, your quality of sleep can improve when you keep a gratitude journal.
Gratitude Journals in Action – Real-Life Case Studies
It’s easy to get lost in the studies around gratitude and journaling and think, “But it doesn’t really work in the real world.” The reality is, it does work in the real world, and countless people have provided real-life case studies.
Let’s look at some people who have used gratitude journals. Then, you’ll have a better idea of how it helps in real-life situations.
Gratitude Journaling During a Pandemic – A Great Way to Alleviate Stress
Thirty-six percent of Americans who answered a poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association stated that the coronavirus pandemic is seriously impacting their mental health (American Psychiatric Association, 2020).” The stress from the pandemic doesn’t discriminate. Children and adults alike are anxious and worried, and many are turning to gratitude journals to alleviate the tension.
Ten-year-old Raven Smith is one such person (Goncalves, 2020). Raven writes in her gratitude journal and goes to therapy to help her cope with her emotions. She’s identified things that she’s grateful for, such as her mom, and has opened up her world socially while still practicing social distancing. That, combined with therapy, has improved Raven’s outlook and put her in the position to cope with the pandemic.
Kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from gratitude journals during the pandemic. POPSUGAR Editorial Assistant Chanel Vargas was also dealing with pandemic-related stress when she decided to start a gratitude journal (VARGAS, 2020). Each day, she filled a page with things she was thankful for. The thoughts included video calls with friends, food in the kitchen, and a good line she’d read from a book. Nothing was too small to get a mention in her journal. In fact, the only rule was that no negativity was allowed.
She set out to do it 21 days in a row to cement the habit, and after a couple of weeks, it was ingrained in her mind, and she started looking forward to it. She found that positive thoughts started filling her mind throughout the day. Along with making her more positive, it helped her relax and find peace.
These are just two examples of the many people who have turned to gratitude journaling during the pandemic. Yes, the coronavirus pandemic has created lots of stress, but there are still so many bright spots in the world. You can identify the bright spots in your life with gratitude journaling. That will make the pandemic much easier to handle.
Gratitude Journaling to Success
People also use gratitude journals to help them along their paths to success. These aren’t just up-and-comers either. Some of the most successful people use gratitude journals, and it’s not too late of royal to join their ranks (The Oracles, 2020).
James Mansfield is the founder and CEO of West Village General Contracting and JGMansfield. Years ago, he was having a difficult time in the business world, and his anxiety was getting the best of him. It wasn’t unusual for him to wake up in the middle of the night, stressed out about clients, money, and so much more.
His wife changed his life when she recommended that he write in a gratitude journal each night. He didn’t think it would work but decided to humor her. Before going to bed, he would write five things he was grateful for. Those five things soon ballooned into a full page. He’d spend five minutes doing this and quickly realized how much better he felt. Now, he sleeps so much better and feels better in general. Most importantly, he’s realized that life isn’t something that just happens. He creates the situations in his life. Gratitude journaling has empowered him and helped him become successful.
Then there’s the founder of Believe Nation, David Imonitie. Each night, he takes time to be grateful, and he recommends that others do the same with a gratitude journal. He said that gratitude will drive you toward your next breakthrough. You’ll become more positive and healthier, both physically and mentally. It also shows that you can make it through anything.
If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut or overly stressed, it’s time to start a gratitude journal. You might even become as successful as these men and the countless others who have benefited from gratitude journals.
The Gratitude Journal Project – Uplifting Cancer Patients’ Spirits
Dan Hall had a reputation for being extremely positive. He was also the type of person who made people feel like they’d known him for years, whether they were a colleague at his State Farm office, a client, or someone else he encountered. He wrote in his gratitude journal each day, and that helped him stay upbeat as he battled colon cancer (Nowell, 2020).
While he eventually succumbed to cancer, his vibrant spirit lives on through a gratitude journal project. Memorial donations were used to purchase gratitude journals for cancer patients at BCA-CV. These journals should help the men and women who are battling with cancer remain positive and strong so they can fight the disease.
Dan Hall was proof that even those who are going through something extraordinarily difficult can benefit from a gratitude journal. With the help of a gratitude journal, people can continue to see the positive, even as they struggle.
Gratitude Journal Tips
Starting a new project can always feel a bit overwhelming. If you haven’t journaled before, you probably aren’t sure how to begin. Let’s look at some tips so you’ll be ready to start your gratitude journal.
Sitting down and writing for the first time can be a bit difficult. You might not know where to begin, but you can make it easier by using gratitude journal prompts (RHODES, 2020). With the help of prompts, you can dive right in and start journaling.
You can start simple with something like, “List three things that I am grateful for right now.” It could be your partner, the gorgeous weather, and the friend who sent you a sweet note.
You can also ask yourself what people in your life you’re most thankful for, or what accomplishments make you the proudest.
Other ideas include 10 activities that make you the happiest and a time when someone did something nice just for you. You can even write about the things that brought a smile to your face this week.
These are just some ideas. As you gain more experience with journaling, you’ll find it easy to get started. Until then, use prompts to help you write.
And Then Move Beyond Prompts
After you spend some time with your gratitude journal, you’ll be ready to move beyond the prompts. You might still use prompts from time to time, but you can also step outside of the box and come up with your own topics. This is really easy to do when you’ve been journaling for a while. You can sit down at your computer and start firing off a journal entry in no time, without any help.
Write When It Works Best for You
Some five-minute gratitude journals state that you should write at specific times of the day. However, that’s not always beneficial. You are a unique person, so you need to write at the time that works best for you, according to the Cleveland Clinic (Cleveland Clinic, 2020).
Some people like to write in their gratitude journals first thing in the morning. They use the time to reflect on the previous day’s blessings. Then, a sense of gratitude follows them around for the rest of the day.
Others find that writing in their gratitude journals at night makes it easier for them to sleep. They relive their blessings and drift off to sleep without any stress.
Some people even write in their journals in the middle of the day. They find that it gives them a much-needed boost.
You need to find what works for you. Try different times to find the best option for your specific situation. Then, write at that time each day. However, if you start to feel like you aren’t getting the same boost, you can switch times.
Start With The Basics
When you first start using a gratitude journal, keep it simple. You don’t have to think of life-changing things that you’re grateful for, just as you don’t have to list 10 items. Start with three or fewer items if you’re having trouble. Keep in mind that you can write about something as simple as having a hot shower with excellent pressure. That’s certainly a reason to be grateful.
While you will list some items that you’re grateful for, don’t be sparse with the details. The more details you can provide, the more you’ll get out of your gratitude journal. Providing details cements the item in your mind, helping you to remember it. Research even shows that you experience the same boost when you write out the details of an experience as you do when you go through it.
For instance, let’s say that you’re grateful for your cup of coffee in the morning. If you just write “cup of coffee,” your body won’t experience it again. Instead, write about the mug you used, explain the steam, and go over the taste. Write as many details as you can so you can experience drinking the coffee again. Then, you’ll be able to truly experience gratitude.
Avoid the Superficial
Some people create a huge yet superficial list of the things they’re grateful for. This is just an action and not true gratitude. Explore the emotional connection so you can truly be grateful for all that you have. You don’t need to have the longest list. Instead, you need to include items that accurately represent the best people and things in your life.
But Don’t Focus on Perfection
You need to add details and avoid being superficial. However, you shouldn’t waste your time trying to write the perfect journal entry since there’s no such thing. What works for someone else might not work for you. Instead of trying to be perfect, attempt to form emotional connections with your entries. Then, you are sure to benefit from journaling.
Keep an Eye Out for Good
When you start a gratitude journal, consider making gratitude a part of your life. Keep an eye out for the good as you go about your day. This will help you come up with things to write about in your journal. Also, it’s easy to maintain a positive mindset when you’re actively searching for the good in the world. You will start to notice how many people and things bring you gratitude, and that will make you feel more positive overall.
Don’t Overdo It
You can suffer from serious burnout if you spend too long journaling. The five-minute gratitude journal was created because it allows you to express gratitude without overdoing it. While you could spend an hour or longer listing all the things you’re grateful for, you won’t be able to truly experience the gratitude if you write for too long. Stick to five-minute sessions once a day to get the best results.
But Don’t Break the Chain
You don’t want to overdo it when you write in a journal, but you also need to write regularly to reap the benefits. You can stay on track by using Jerry Seinfeld’s secret to writing. His rule for writing is, “Don’t break the chain (Tank, 2019).”
You just need a red marker and a calendar for this tactic. Each day you write, mark a red X over the date. The chain will get longer and longer each consecutive day you write. You will like watching it grow, and you won’t want to break the chain. It worked for Seinfeld, and it can work for you too.
However, if you do break the chain, don’t stop journaling. It’s a small setback. Start again, so you can build another chain.
Don’t Forget About the People in Your Life
When you first start a gratitude journal, you might find yourself constantly writing about things. It’s perfectly fine to write about the things you are grateful for, such as a cup of coffee and a good book. However, don’t forget to include people as well. Gratitude journaling can strengthen your relationships, but you have to write about the people you’re most thankful for. While your partner is the most obvious person, you can also write about others, such as your family members and friends. If you have kids, you can also include them. You can even include strangers who offer random acts of kindness. If you feel gratitude toward a person, include him or her in your journal. You will realize that you feel a stronger bond with humanity as a whole when you include people in your journal.
Don’t Include Any Negative Thoughts or Feelings
Researchers have determined that writing about negative thoughts and feelings can make you feel those negative emotions. Do not let any negative words seep into your gratitude journal. This might be difficult at first. Humans seem to be wired to focus on the negative. You might find yourself starting to write about something that annoyed you but resist the urge. Over time, the process will come much easier. You’ll find that you can express gratitude without reaching for negative emotions. Once gratitude becomes second nature, you’ll reap lots of benefits.
But Do Include Surprises
Some of the great gifts are surprises. The unexpected can elicit a strong emotional response, so include some surprises in your journal when they come about. For instance, if someone pays it forward in the drive-through, include that in your gratitude journal. That doesn’t happen every day, and it can change the way you see the world.
Surprises can also be smaller. Someone might buy your lunch or write you a nice note. Surprises don’t have to be big to be meaningful.
Because surprises are rare, you might only get to include one every month or so. That’s what makes them so special. Remember to include as many details when you write about surprises as well. That way, you can hold onto the feeling and get a huge boost.
Find a Private Spot to Write
It’s hard to write in a journal if someone is in the room with you. Find a private spot where you can be alone with your thoughts and feelings. You only need five minutes, so you can hide out in the bedroom or another place. If you live with someone else, let your housemate know that you need a few minutes alone without interruption. Soon, this will become a habit for the person or people in your house as well. They might even use the time to start their own journals.
Many people like creating rituals around writing in their gratitude journals. Rituals can make the process even more enjoyable. Some rituals include lighting candles, playing quiet music, or enjoying a cup of tea. Each person is different, so think about the rituals you would like to include when you write in your journal. Don’t worry if you don’t want to include any rituals. This is a matter of personal taste. Rituals help some people, but they aren’t for everyone.
Use an Online Tool
While some people use a physical journal, an online tool is much easier. You can access an online tool from anywhere. That means you won’t have to remember to take your gratitude journal with you on vacation. Instead, you can just log into the tool and start writing.
Also, you don’t have to worry about losing an online journal. Imagine spending months or years writing in a journal, only to lose it. That could discourage you. Avoid that by using an online tool. Then, you’ll never lose track of your hard work.
Monitor Your Progress
When you look at studies about gratitude, you’ll notice that many participants are asked to rate their levels of gratitude. You should do the same thing as you use a five-minute gratitude journal. Rate your gratitude level each week, on a scale of 1 to 10. Don’t be surprised if you don’t feel very grateful the first week. That’s normal. It might take several weeks to notice a change, but eventually, your level of gratitude should increase. Then, it should continue to get higher and higher until you are an upbeat and happy person. You should maintain that higher level of gratitude for the long term too.
Reread Your Journal
Your gratitude journal is a constant reminder of all the great things in your life. Open it up from time to time so you can remember how much joy you have in your life. This is easy to do when you use an online tool. You can open it up anytime you need a reminder of your blessings. You can get an instant mood boost.
Write for Yourself
This might be a gratitude journal, but you don’t have to share it with anyone. Enjoy the freedom of knowing that this is for your eyes only. You don’t need to worry about answering questions to explain why you feel gratitude toward the barista at your favorite coffee shop. Don’t filter yourself, or you won’t get to the root of the people and things that you feel grateful for.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t decide to share an entry with someone at a later date. For instance, if you reread your journal and notice something that you would like to share, feel free to do it. Just don’t think about sharing when you’re writing, or you might edit yourself.
Starting Your Own Gratitude Journal
Now that you have seen the benefits, you’re ready to start your own gratitude journal. Start by setting aside time to write. Then, open your online tool and start with a writing prompt or write from scratch. Set a timer for five minutes, and when you are finished, close the program. Then, your journal will be ready the next time you want to use it.
It won’t be long before you start to notice all the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal. Start today so you’ll be that much closer to enjoying the benefits.
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