Start a Gratitude Journal to Reap Amazing Benefits

I hope all is well. How are you feeling today?

If you’re feeling happy, sad, frustrated, tired, hopeful or anything else, I bet there is one thing you can do right at this moment. Think of something you are thankful for.

Good job! You may not know it, but you just gave yourself a psychological and physical boost.

Over the past decade research has identified the great social, psychological, and physical health benefits that come from giving thanks. Benefits including better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, and more happiness. And over and over again I’ve seen how one practice in particular can help us really reap those benefits.

A gratitude journal.

Studies have traced a range of impressive benefits to the simple act of writing down the things for which we’re grateful. And doing so is straightforward. You simply record things you’ve experienced in the past week or so for which you’re grateful. Keep the entries brief. Even just a single sentence will do, and they can range from the mundane such as having a cup of coffee in the morning to the fundamental, like the support of family, or even the personal, like your favorite band.

University of California, Berkley consulted with Robert Emmons, a leading expert on the science of gratitude, to suggest these research-based tips for reaping the greatest psychological rewards from your gratitude journal, and I think they’re worth sharing.

  • “Don’t just go through the motions. Research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and others suggests that journaling is more effective if you first make the conscious decision to become happier and more grateful. “Motivation to become happier plays a role in the efficacy of journaling,” says Emmons.
  • Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.
  • Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.
  • Try subtraction, not just addition. One effective way of stimulating gratitude is to reflect on what your life would be like without certain blessings, rather than just tallying up all those good things.
  • Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.
  • Don’t overdo it. Writing occasionally (once or twice per week) is more beneficial than daily journaling. In fact, one study by Lyubomirsky and her colleagues found that people who wrote in their gratitude journals once a week for six weeks reported boosts in happiness afterward; people who wrote three times per week didn’t. “We adapt to positive events quickly, especially if we constantly focus on them,” says Emmons. “It seems counterintuitive, but it is how the mind works.”’

When it comes down to it, keeping a gratitude journal is really about forcing ourselves to pay attention to the good things in life we’d otherwise take for granted. It’s easy to overlook the regular sources of goodness in our lives if we don’t make ourselves pay attention.

Sometimes with the craziness of life and constantly rushing around I forget to take a moment, breath, and reflect on the good in my life. Then when I finally get around to making myself journal I’m amazed at all of the things that have happened recently that I didn’t give a second thought to at the time but that I am incredibly grateful for.

And the beautiful thing is there is no one right way to do this. You can write in the morning or before you go to bed, in a fancy journal or on a notepad. The important thing is just to establish the habit of paying attention to goodness in people, things, and events that bring a little joy to your life.

So let’s start now. What are you thankful for? Let me know by sharing it with the Circle+Bloom community by commenting below.

With love + gratitude,

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Merlene September 25, 2013, 2:08 pm

    Thank you to God for life.

  • Elisa Korenne September 25, 2013, 4:57 pm


    What great advice! I’ve been experimenting with a gratitude journal for about a year, but I haven’t quite found a rhythm with it. These tips give me some insight into how I can make my gratitude journal work more for me. I particularly like the idea of going for depth rather than a long list. Here’s to becoming happier and more grateful!

    Elisa Korenne
    songwriter and author

  • Evangelista September 28, 2013, 2:06 pm

    For good health.

  • Benita September 29, 2013, 10:41 pm

    Joanne, love this post! I am grateful beyond words for the beautiful life growing inside me.

Leave a Comment