As humans we tend to naturally gravitate toward negative events rather than remembering the positive, uplifting ones. A new study suggests that holding on to negative feelings can trigger long-term effects on psychological well being. The longer your brain holds onto negative events, the more likely you are to develop chronic stress which can lead to other serious health problems including lowered immune system, digestive problems, and delayed healing.
Gratitude Journaling as a Means of MindfulnessMindfulness is a powerful tool to change your mental approach, one technique is through gratitude journaling. This practice aims toward training your brain to focus on the positive things present in your life rather than the things you may be lacking. First introduced in 1996 by bestselling author, Sarah Ban Breathnach, as a tool for women to record their daily moments of gratitude while also offering insight through inspirational quotes. Originally a companion book to her original title, “Simple Abundance,” the idea of a gratitude journal proved to be a worldwide success with many people taking up the habit in an effort to improve their lives and wellbeing.
In a 2001 interview with The Irish Times, Sarah reflected on her own personal life after the end of her marriage, commenting that through it all, she gained a deeper understanding of herself. “When you get to know yourself and what's important to you, life becomes simpler and more fulfilling - more abundant,” she said.
American psychologists Robert Emmon and Michael McCullough conducted a research on gratitude journaling in 2003 and concluded that those who kept a gratitude journal, exercised more, felt better about their lives, and were more optimistic about the future than those who recorded hassles or neutral life events. Other benefits included improved sleep quality, and a greater empathy and connection with others.
How to Practice Gratitude JournalingFind a journal you love, something that you would love to keep near you as much as possible. Dedicate one or two days a week to write in your journal. You can choose either morning or evening, depending on your personal preference. Try to make it a positive experience for yourself by lighting a candle or making yourself a soothing cup of tea. Then, choose a quiet spot where you can relax and self-reflect and write down five things you are grateful for that week. Be sure to also include why you are grateful for each one. During this time, allow yourself to feel the emotions associated with each event. This will make you look forward to gratitude journaling and sustain the habit. Remember, gratitude is the appreciation of what is meaningful to you and every person’s experience is different so don’t be afraid to consider the small things that often may go overlooked such as somebody holding the door open for you, or spotting a baby smiling at you while grocery shopping. Sometimes it’s the little things that bring the greatest emotions.
Celebrate ExperiencesYou don’t need to work on your journal everyday. The purpose of a gratitude journal is to celebrate the fleeting moments of joy in daily life. It shouldn’t be something that brings you stress so don’t worry if you can’t write daily due to a busy schedule. In fact, research has shown that weekly journaling proved to be more effective than daily. Those who wrote in their journals once weekly reported greater happiness than the ones who wrote three or more times a week.
There is no promise that every week will be filled with positive events. Sometimes we may encounter particularly tough times, making it more difficult to focus on anything but the bad. However, even unpleasant situations can often have positive outcomes. If you find yourself stuck in this situation, try to come up with some positives, even if few in number. Training your mind in this manner will help in transforming your thoughts by finding the positive side of negative situations.
No matter how your week is going, spending just a couple of minutes writing down the things that you are grateful for is enough to encourage more joy into your life.