What Gratitude Journaling Taught Me About Happiness

It's easy to focus on the negative aspects of life, but gratitude journaling can change your perspective.

What Gratitude Journaling Taught Me About Happiness

By Lillian Fallon

“You cannot have happiness without gratitude.”

I heard these words in a homily years ago and have struggled to put them into practice ever since. I’m the type of person to lay awake in bed at night planning my next step in life, ruminating over different career advancing tactics, and fantasizing about the future I want. I tend to reflect more on things I want than the things I already have.

The idea of keeping a gratitude journal for a month was like partaking in an intriguing experiment. I wondered if I’d finally experience the elusive gratitude = happiness equation I hadn’t solved yet.

So on the first of the month, I drafted up a little doc titled, “Gratitude Journal” in the notes app on my iPhone. Four weeks and 2,000 words later, I concluded my journey for gratitude. Here’s what happened.


“Oh crap, I gotta do this now so I don’t forget.” This is the thought that would come to me every night at 10 p.m. when my journal reminder went off. But what initially felt like a to-do task eventually became something I looked forward to, simply because I was constantly surprised by the things I was grateful for.

When I thought back on my day, I’d suddenly remember odd moments that brought me joy that I’d typically forget about. For example, during the first week of that month, I helped a designer prepare their collection for a runway show. While this was, of course, a big thing to be grateful for, my journal mostly consisted of smaller things from that week.

I was especially grateful for an authentic encounter I shared with a model. She was just very sincere and kind and I remember my heart being warmed by the genuine human connection we shared. When I was writing down the things I was grateful for, that encounter stood out to me more than anything. It made me realize that it’s more important to value the people I meet than the things I do.

At the end of the day, I’d find myself feeling the most gratitude for the human encounters I had. Whether it was chatting with a stranger on the train, listening to music all day in friend’s apartment, having a heart-to-heart with my sister on FaceTime, playing guitar with my neighbor, or sharing a meal with my aunt, my gratitude journal ended up being very people-centric.

The things I was grateful for during my nightly reflection began leaking into my day-to-day experience. Instead of later identifying moments of joy, I began thinking, “This is making me happy right now,” and I started embracing the feeling of happiness while it was happening. By taking a few moments every night to reflect on the things I was grateful for, I was conditioning myself to be more grateful 24/7.

Photo by Polina Sirotina on Pexels.com


Re-reading my gratitude journal allows me to be transported back to moments that were specifically positive. In life, it’s easy to just focus on the negative. Even when the good outweighs the bad, we remember the bad over everything. Because a gratitude journal quite literally only focuses us on the good, it made me reflect on the good that I experienced for a whole month, thus prompting a “hey, life ain’t that bad” moment.

Some things I straight up forgot about. Like one day I got distracted and walked too far, missed the block my train was on, and got lost. My wrong turned landed me on a street that held a Catholic church. The doors were wide open and warm light poured out. I took this as a sign to visit Jesus. It was such a cool, surprising moment, and I felt the call to visit Him in the tabernacle so strongly — but I somehow forgot it until re-reading my gratitude journal. Now I get to relive how cool that experience was.

Re-reading my journal also allowed me to connect some dots. Aside from the theme of valuing authentic human interaction, I noticed that the days I felt the most gratitude were days I wrote about the little things. I can’t tell you how many times I wrote down that I was grateful “for heat in winter,” or “for my comfy bed,” “for being friends with my neighbors,” or even more simply, “for feeling happy again.”

And there you have it, the gratitude = happiness equation. As I look through my journal now, the last days all repeat the same thing: gratitude for feeling happy. At the beginning of the month, I felt suffocated and limited by the very things that I was grateful for by the end of the month. I’ll admit that this was a big month for me internally — I was searching for direction and meaning. I believe I received it through lots of prayer and learning to be more grateful for all the things I jotted down at night.

I’ve realized that change doesn’t necessarily come from the big life events that happen to us — usually, it’s the smaller, internal events that build up over time until we’re transformed without realizing it. I think that’s what keeping a gratitude journal is all about: writing down the little things from each day, and then reflecting on how all those little things actually amount to big things.

Come to think of it, happiness doesn’t come from something big happening to you, either. Real happiness comes from making daily decisions to cherish the gifts you’ve been given, no matter how big or small. Having gratitude for the little things will slowly but surely build genuine joy.

Honestly, I wasn’t planning on keeping a gratitude journal after one month, but after reflecting on the impact it had on me after just four weeks, I think I’d better.

What Gratitude Journaling Taught Me About Happiness

Link: https://peacelilysite.com/2022/12/20/what-gratitude-journaling-taught-me-about-happiness/


Source: https://grottonetwork.com/navigate-life/health-and-wellness/how-gratitude-journaling-helps-with-happiness/

Giving thanks can make you happier

Giving thanks can make you happier

Each holiday season comes with high expectations for a cozy and festive time of year. However, for many this time of year is tinged with sadness, anxiety, or depression. Certainly, major depression or a severe anxiety disorder benefits most from professional help. But what about those who just feel lost or overwhelmed or down at this time of year? Research (and common sense) suggests that one aspect of the Thanksgiving season can actually lift the spirits, and it’s built right into the holiday — being grateful.

The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). In some ways, gratitude encompasses all of these meanings. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, being grateful also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.

In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

People feel and express gratitude in multiple ways. They can apply it to the past (retrieving positive memories and being thankful for elements of childhood or past blessings), the present (not taking good fortune for granted as it comes), and the future (maintaining a hopeful and optimistic attitude). Regardless of the inherent or current level of someone’s gratitude, it’s a quality that individuals can successfully cultivate further.

Research on gratitude

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.

One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.

Another leading researcher in this field, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. When their week’s assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month.

Of course, studies such as this one cannot prove cause and effect. But most of the studies published on this topic support an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being.

Other studies have looked at how being grateful  can improve relationships. For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.

Managers who remember to say “thank you” to people who work for them may find that those employees feel motivated to work harder. Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania randomly divided university fund-raisers into two groups. One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had. The second group — assigned to work on a different day — received a pep talk from the director of annual giving, who told the fund-raisers she was grateful for their efforts. During the following week, the university employees who heard her message of gratitude made 50% more fund-raising calls than those who did not.

There are some notable exceptions to the generally positive results in research on gratitude. One study found that middle-aged divorced women who kept gratitude journals were no more satisfied with their lives than those who did not. Another study found that children and adolescents who wrote and delivered a thank-you letter to someone who made a difference in their lives may have made the other person happier — but did not improve their own well-being. This finding suggests that gratitude is an attainment associated with emotional maturity.

Ways to cultivate gratitude

Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.

Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis.

Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter or email expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.

Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.

Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day.

Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.

Pray. People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.

Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as “peace”), it is also possible to focus on what you’re grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.).

Link: https://wisdomtea.org/2022/01/19/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier/