Many of us wish we could keep a journal. It's comforting (and handy) to have a personal record of your life to look back on. Journaling also makes you a more disciplined and mindful person, which I, for one, could certainly benefit from. Keeping up with the habit of writing something down every few days is nice in thought, but generally it's hard in practice. There's always an activity that's more important or interesting than journaling. Maybe writing isn't your strong suit. And let's face it, life is sometimes boring and there's just nothing to write about. Regardless of the barrier that's keeping you from your journaling goals, this technique may help you stick to a routine. Instead of the traditional diary, try the Gratitude Journal. It'll actually make you happier along the way.
I used to be an avid journal-keeper. I was eight years old when I received my first diary. It was pink and came with a tiny gold key to keep my secrets safe from my two brothers. I addressed every single entry with, "Dear Diary," plus the date, then signed off with my name. In addition to an eight-year-olds recap of our daily activities, I also included a small drawing with each entry. I was dedicated. I kept journals all throughout school and into college, and have all those notebooks stashed away in the back of my closet somewhere. Then, sometime during my sophomore year of college, journaling took a back seat, then eventually got off the bus entirely. I've only just now begun to pick it up again, and I'm finding that it's easier to journal when I have a goal for my writing, which is where the Gratitude Journal comes into play.
What is Gratitude Journaling?
Your Gratitude Journal can be lots of things, but primarily it's a topic for you to write on. That topic is whatever you are grateful for on the day you're writing. It's a little (or big) thing that made you happy or made you realize how fortunate you are. You don't have to fill up a full page. You don't need a fancy templated notebook. You only need to write down the date, and the thing you're thankful for. Like so:
April 4th, 2018 - Today I was able to find time to take a nap, and when I woke up I felt refreshed and happier. I also remembered to download my favorite podcast before leaving the house, which made shoveling the car out of the snow a lot more enjoyable!
Your entry can be as long or as short as you want it to be. If you feel you have lots you want to write down about your day, go for it. Sometimes starting with a line or two is enough to get the creative juices flowing, and before you know it, you've filled a page. Otherwise, a line or two is just fine.
What you write about is going to differ from entry to entry. One day your point of joy may be as extraordinary as your coworker surprising you with a gift card to your favorite coffee shop. On another day it might be the way the sun filtered into your window in the morning. The scale of your source of gratitude doesn't matter - making note of it does.
Benefits of Keeping a Gratitude Journal
In addition to having a record of your life in your own words, there are some emotional and psychological benefits to keeping a Gratitude Journal, too. According to Great Good Science out of UC Berkeley, the simple act of writing down what you're thankful for can better your sleep habits, lessen symptoms of illness, and increase happiness. But you can't just go through the motions to reap the benefits. Studies have also shown that you have to be "in it" when you journal. That is, you can't just pick some moment in your day and write about it - you have to feel actual gratitude about that moment. And you'll feel better for it.
Here's What To Do
So what's the best way to keep a Gratitude Journal? Here are a few pointers:
- Write once or twice a week: Often when people set their goals to start a journal, they go too big and overwhelm themselves. Don't strive to write daily. Aim to write once or twice a week. As it turns out, recording what you are grateful for daily is actually less helpful than doing so a few times a week. A daily recognition of what you're grateful for numbs you to those happy moments. Save up your happy moments and write about them all at once.
- Dedicate a time to journaling: If you want to keep a journal, you have to give your new hobby some priority. Pick two or three times a week when you have time to journal. Maybe it's while you're sitting at the laundromat. Or it's while you're waiting in line to pick your kids up from school. Pinpoint a few times during the week when you have time to write, and use one or two of those times to do so.
- Don't worry about looks: Gratitude Journaling isn't Bullet Journaling. There's no need for it to look pretty. This journal is for your benefit, so don't judge yourself on your sloppy penmanship.
- Try and write the entire entry at once: Sitting with what your gratitude for a longer period of time will bring you more happiness than jotting thoughts down at random. Immerse yourself in your writing. Allow yourself to pause and soak up those feelings of thankfulness.
Why It Works
Keeping a Gratitude Journal means you don't have to sit in front of a blank page, pen in hand, thinking, "What should I write about today?" You already have your topic - gratitude! You start each entry prepared with a framework to write in, and because of the benefits of this type of journaling, you're more likely to stick with it. Since writing down what makes you happy actually makes you a happier person, you'll be motivated to stick to your goal of keeping a journal. And if you're ever feeling the blues, you can look back on your life and re-appreciate the things that make you the happiest.
Do you keep a journal? Or have you ever wanted to keep a journal but can't seem to get the habit to stick? Leave me a comment letting me know about your experiences!