My Positive Psychology class in college was life-changing. While we engaged in thought-provoking discussions on happiness and post-traumatic-growth, I was most struck by the gratitude research. I dove into Dr. Robert Emmons work on gratitude with the same enthusiasm I used to drink my morning coffee. As time went by, what I learned during this class became a vague memory I would reminisce on from time to time.
Scientific research supports that gratitude improves sleep, health, and relationships. In a 2011 study published in the European Journal of Aging, it was found that gratitude gave participants in their 60s a sense that their lives were well-lived, which in turn reduced their death anxiety. Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman has done studies that show an increase in happiness scores in people who wrote gratitude letters.
This year, I made the jump from school teacher to online entrepreneur. I felt it was essential to work hard on improving myself. Building a solid foundation for happiness and wellbeing became a crucial first step to making my dreams come true and gain confidence. I also needed to get my personal life back on track. My relationship was struggling, and I found myself feeling more anxiety than joy. I had difficulty falling asleep at night as the sudden fear of death invaded my thoughts as soon as my head hit the pillow. Having heard of the Gratitude Journal practice before, I revisited my Positive Psychology college essays, and decided this would be the starting point to make my life better.
Here are 4 simple tips to help you get started on your gratitude journal:
1. Choose your special notebook.
Do not just do this exercise in your head. I liked choosing a special notebook just for this purpose because it made me feel committed. Seeing all you are grateful for written down on paper will bring greater focus to how much good there is in your life. It is easy to have a grateful thought that passes by like a cloud in the sky, like many other million thoughts in your head do. Take 10 minutes to really bring attention to those thoughts and get them written. Once you are finished, you will get a boost of well-being that could take you from feeling just fine to feeling wonderful for the rest of the day!
2. Be very specific.
Instead of writing something like “I am grateful for my boyfriend,” try expanding in details. Example, “I am grateful for my boyfriend because he always wakes up in a good mood, and he did the dishes this morning.” Do not worry about writing a certain number of things you are grateful for. You can choose 3 things to expand on. Your things can be as simple as the rich and delicious cake you just ate, or as grand as your grandmother getting out of the hospital and doing well at home.
3. Revise your list.
Do not just write a page and put it away. Read it to yourself and let it sink in. I personally like to read my previous page before I write a new one. That way I can more easily dive into a new list with the feeling of gratitude already bubbling up inside me.
4. Do not overdo it.
Let’s be real, we are all very quickly desensitized to things. You do not want to get used to the positive things in your life to the point that they fade into the background. For me, 3 -4 times a week has been the ideal amount of times to sit down and write a page on my Gratitude Journal. Let yourself be surprised by the good things happening in your week, and sit down to jot them down from time to time – still, make sure you are consistent with it.
Something that helps boost this practice even when you feel like there is nothing to be grateful for is to imagine how much worse it could be. What would your life be like without a certain friend or sibling? If you feel like you are scraping for something good, picture someone or something you love being taken away. This will allow you to take a step outside the negative thinking and realize the good fortune in having that person, activity, or thing.
I do not foresee myself letting go of this practice for a long time. In the past two months I have gained self-esteem and confidence to start my own business, I’ve become less irritable with my partner, I’ve reduced my level of death anxiety, and I have been falling asleep much quicker at night. Gratitude will give you that feeling that up until now, you have led a pretty good life, and you plan on keeping that up.
Now that Thanksgiving is around the corner, and the holiday season sparks up warm feelings toward others, how will you show your gratitude?
Do you keep a gratitude journal? What would you write in it today?