Give Thanks! 4 Powerfully Good Reasons to Keep a Gratitude Journal
Many people associate gratitude with only one day of the year: Thanksgiving.
But plenty of research shows us that taking a little time to purposefully give thanks each day—even for the teeny-tiny good things in your life—can have a powerful and positive effect on your brain. That’s why we love the idea of keeping a gratitude journal.
Here’s how it works: Take five minutes each morning or evening and jot down three things you’re thankful for. You don’t even need to write full sentences to reap the benefits—just getting in the habit of thinking positively about your life will help you develop a stronger sense of well-being. (Even noting the small stuff, like a stranger holding the door open for you at a coffee shop, totally counts.)
Not convinced? Here’s what this little ritual can do for you (and others around you, too).
1. Gratitude can help you sleep better.
Having trouble sleeping? Jotting down what makes you grateful before bed has been linked to better sleep quality, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research. If you want deeper, longer sleep and more energy during the day, relief could be just a journal session away.
2. Gratitude can help you get through hard times.
While being thankful is easier on good days, it brings a surprising benefit to bad ones: Gratitude can also bring closure to “unpleasant emotional memories,” according to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology. The research showed that people who took time to think about positive things that resulted from a painful or difficult event were better able to “emotionally process these events, thus bringing emotional closure….” Hard to believe? Think about some difficult experiences you’ve been through: Maybe you grew more empathetic, cultivated deeper and more meaningful relationships, or learned a vital life lesson.
3. Gratitude can improve your relationships.
Want to strengthen your relationships? A study published in 2010 in Psychological Science and another published in 2011 in Emotion show that expressing gratitude to your partner or friends can deepen those connections. Need some reasons why? Expressing gratitude shows the people in your life that you care and that they matter to you, which creates a strong foundation for your relationships. Just as important, this foundation makes people more comfortable expressing problems or concerns when they arise, rather than holding it in and becoming angry or resentful later. Whenever you write something about your partner, a friend, or a family member in your gratitude journal, make a point of sharing it with them—it could make a world of difference!
4. Practicing gratitude can help your children develop a grateful outlook, too.
Keeping a daily gratitude journal and sharing the practice with your children can offer a major boost to their well-being. According to a 2008 study published in the Journal of School Psychology, when children develop a “grateful outlook,” their attitudes about school and home life improve, they become more optimistic, and their mental health is given a boost as well. The study found that children who practiced gratitude regularly were more likely to find school interesting, feel better about themselves, and even look forward to learning.
5. Apps are making it easier than ever.
Have trouble committing time every day to put pen to paper? Try a gratitude journal app instead! Using an app allows you to schedule reminders for yourself, include photos, and stay accountable while you’re developing your new habit of gratitude.
- Journal of Psychosomatic Research, "Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions," Wood AM1, Joseph S, Lloyd J, Atkins S.
- Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being; "Effects of Constructive Worry, Imagery Distraction, and Gratitude Interventions on Sleep Quality," by Nancy Digdon and Anne Koble
- The Journal of Positive Psychology; "Taking care of business? Grateful processing of unpleasant memories," by Philip C. Watkins, Lilia Cruz, Heather Holben & Russell L. Kolts
- Emotion, "Expressing gratitude to a partner leads to more relationship maintenance behavior," by NM Lambert and FD Fincham
- Journal of School Psychology, "Counting Blessings in Early Adolescents," by Jeffrey J. Froh, William J. Sefick, and Robert A. Emmons