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The Power of Gratitude Journaling and Easy Ways to Get Started

Searches for ‘gratitude journal' more than doubled in the past decade, according to Google Trends. The popularity of this practice has good reasons behind it. Several studies show that practicing gratitude can reduce stress, improve sleep, and even improve eating habits, among other benefits.

You don’t need much to start except a journal or your laptop, and you can enjoy benefits from journaling just once a week, according to researchers at Berkley's Greater Good Science Center (GGSC).

Here are the 11 most important benefits of adopting the gratitude habit, and a few easy ways to get started.

Lowers Stress Levels

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Whatever you focus on, you give more attention to. Focusing on the bright side of things also lowers stress levels and improves mood. In addition, as this activity requires you to be fully present in the moment, it also acts as a meditative practice through which you can disconnect from your daily life.

Increases Life Satisfaction

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When you practice gratitude journaling, you suddenly become aware of all the blessings in your life. This positive reframing of life’s circumstances shifts your perspective and, as such, can increase optimism as well.

Improves Mental Health

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Studies show gratitude journaling can also lower depression symptoms in some people. Any time you spend writing a list of things you’re thankful for is time not spent ruminating on things outside your control or stressful situations. As such, gratitude journaling can lower an array of challenging emotions like resentment, envy, regret, or even frustration.

Improves Physical Health

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According to a study published in Personality and Individual Differences, people who practice gratitude report fewer aches and pains and feel healthier than people who don’t. This is further strengthened by the focus and priority of grateful people on feeling good, and as such, they take better care of their health.

Heightened Resilience

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Each additional thing we are grateful for gives us a boost of inner strength and resilience to face another day. When we reflect on the difficulties we have endured and survived, it can inspire confidence in our own strength.

A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War veterans who practice gratitude experience lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, a 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that gratitude had a great influence on resilience following the 9/11 attacks.

Better Sleep

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The information we consume, the books we read, and the movies we watch all influence our moods and thoughts. Likewise, the practice of showing appreciation for good things in our lives redirects our attention to all the ways things are going well instead of all the things going wrong. A lighter and more positive mental load can contribute to better sleeping, according to a study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research.

Higher Self-Esteem

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An interesting fact about gratitude journaling is that it also increases self-esteem. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology discovered that practicing gratitude raised the self-esteem of athletes, which is crucial for athletic performance. It makes sense, then, if comparing ourselves with others negatively impacts our self-esteem, that appreciating our strengths helps reframe things positively and can even foster appreciation for other people’s strengths.

Rewards Progress

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By taking inventory of past challenges that we have overcome, we strengthen our sense of accomplishment and are more motivated to take on new challenges. In short, it motivates us to keep evolving and moving forward.

Improves Eating Habits

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An interesting benefit is better eating habits. In a study by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a Psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, it was found that high school students who took up gratitude journaling reported an improvement in their eating habits.

Helps You Notice the Present Moment

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Even on busy days when you only have ten minutes to spare for a moment of mindfulness, it can make a difference in your entire day. For ten minutes, you’re not multitasking or worrying about a dozen things at the same time. Instead, you’re fully present in the moment, savoring the rich creamy flavor of your coffee or the sound of birds chirping outside your window.

Fosters Patience and Humility

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Gratitude journaling encourages us to see the beauty and importance of all things, particularly the seemingly trivial details of life. By appreciating a clear blue sky, a sunny afternoon, or having a refreshing walk through the forest, these things all help remind us what a privilege it is to be alive and healthy, to have family and friends that care about us, and many other positive things.

Self-Discovery

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Turning gratitude journaling into a habit can be the beautiful beginning of a journey of self-discovery. The things that we focus on, our daily observations, and what we choose to be grateful for all reflect our identity in some shape or form.

Keep It Simple to Build the Habit

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You don't have to be journaling every day. In fact, a study by researchers at GGSC found that writing once a week for six weeks helped participants feel the benefits of gratitude journaling more than writing three times a week. They believe this is possibly because it's easy to get numb to what's good in our lives. Once-a-week writing makes it a bit more of a surprise, deepening our sense of gratitude for the moments we note down.

Take a Moment to Really Feel the Gratitude

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As you ask yourself what you feel grateful for from the past week, let the grateful feeling really sink in. Savor reliving those moments in your imagination and you'll increase your good feelings around them as well as make it more likely to notice positive moments in the future.

There Isn't One Right Way

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Write in a notebook or on a computer. Or maybe draw or paint what you're grateful for. Get your child or grandchild involved if you like. The point is not to make a perfect gratitude journal, it's to make it a habit to check in with what you're grateful for. So do what works for you! 

Prompts to Get You Started

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Here's a list of 52 gratitude journal prompts – they're good for gratitude journaling as well as making great conversation starters with your family.

Author: S.K. Lumen

Title: Writer

Expertise: women's personal development, mental health, self love

S.K. Lumen is a writer, artist and blogger who is passionate about helping women become their best selves. She writes about personal development, self-love, self-care, wellness & mental health.