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Psychologists have been singing the praises of journaling for years. Not only is it a great way to reflect on the daily events in your life, it’s been proven to improve emotional intelligence, writing ability, memory, self-discipline and communication skills. Plus, if you’ve ever looked up bullet journals on Pinterest, you know they can look super adorable. You don’t need to put that much work into your journal to get all the benefits though. If you don’t have time for all those little details or you’re looking to start slow, a gratitude journal is a great way to reflect without putting hours a night into drawing grids and perfecting swirly scripts. So grab a cute notebook (or just a piece of paper) and let’s get started.

Why a gratitude journal?

According to psychologist Dr. Sandy Rao, a person has about 60,000 thoughts in a day and about 80 per cent of those are negative. That’s a whole lot of negativity all mixed in with your positive thoughts. Keeping a gratitude journal is a way to pick those positive thoughts out of the noise in your head and highlight them as more important than all that bad stuff. Writing down thoughts makes you feel, emote and express them differently. A gratitude journal forces you to commit to those happy thoughts instead of letting them flit by like all the rest.

Getting started

1. Conscious intent

You might need to consciously force yourself to think in terms of what you’re grateful for. You need to make the decision to acknowledge all the little positive things in your life. They can be big (like your family or your health) or seemingly small (like doing your commute in less time than normal or finding a loonie at the bottom of your purse). Just make a conscious effort to think about the things that make you happy.

2. Feel what you write

Don’t just write down the easy things and call it a day. Actually feel every item you write down. If you’re writing ‘family,’ think about them and why you’re happy they’re in your life. If you’re writing ‘career,’ think about everything that got you there and why you enjoy your work. This is part of cultivating and encouraging those positive thoughts.

3. Don’t wait for the right time

Write things down when you think of them. Maybe carry your notebook around with you or write a note in your phone when you think of something you’re grateful for to add to your journal later. Give that random positive thought the attention it deserves in the moment. You can’t expect yourself to remember everything that happened to you if you wait until the end of the day to write.

4. Be creative

This is supposed to be fun and therapeutic. If you like to draw, illustrate your journal. Make it colourful. Express yourself as much as you want, but you also shouldn’t feel pressure to make your journal Instagrammable. This is for you. If your style is a simple list of positives scribbled in pencil, that’s perfect.

Also don’t be afraid to get other people involved. Have your family talk about what they’re grateful for at dinner (like Thanksgiving dinner everyday!) or encourage them to express positive thoughts when they have them. Journaling can be very personal, but it could also be a group activity.

5. Give it a fair chance

How often do we decide to start journaling but give up before we’ve even really begun? You need to work at it to make journaling (and thinking in the positive way it encourages) part of your life. Repetition is key. Once you’re into the habit, it will come more naturally and not seem like such a chore. Remember to journal even (especially) on the days you don’t really feel grateful at all. That’s when you need it the most.

Now grab a pen and paper and work on that attitude of gratitude.