Many people have a diary or journal, where they occasionally write down their thoughts, hopes, goals, dreams, successes, frustrations, and disappointments. In recent years, research has shown the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal, recognizing the positive impact of focusing on and writing down things for which we are grateful.
One of the world’s leading experts on gratitude, Robert Emmons, PhD, University of California professor of psychology and founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology, shares that following a gratitude practice can help people reduce stress, sleep better, make progress toward achieving goals, be more alert, have more energy, feel better about their lives, and improve health and overall wellbeing.
How can you gain greater benefits from your gratitude practice?
I recommend shifting to a gratitude jar, which has the same benefits of a gratitude journal, will act as a visual reminder to keep up with your practice, and can increase your happiness by regularly seeing the contents grow.
According to Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD, co-founder of the Happiness Studies Academy and international best-selling author, we are constantly primed by our surroundings and have the ability to create positive environments to impact how we feel and think. He encourages people to add photos, art, books, and other items to their physical space to inspire and to make them feel good.
To achieve optimal results, make your gratitude practice a habit and add it to your routine at whatever time works best for you.
How to Upgrade Your Gratitude Practice
Obtain a large glass jar, small pieces of paper or index cards, and something with which to write.
Choose a time that works for you — when you can dedicate one to two minutes of your uninterrupted focus — daily, a few times a week, or even just once a week. During the last several years, I shifted my gratitude practice from daily to weekly and then back to daily, but I always focused on it in the evening, after dinner and before getting into bed. Savoring gratitude near the end of the day helps me have a good night’s sleep.
Write down one to five things for which you’re grateful. You can write more, but don’t pressure yourself. This practice is not about quantity. It’s about being present with your gratitude practice, training your brain to focus on what’s good in your life, and strengthening your appreciation muscles.
For each item, write a sentence or just a word, whatever is meaningful for you. Think intently on what you’re writing; try to visualize the people, places, things, and experiences; and aim to feel the positive emotions associated with them.
Place your jar somewhere you can often appreciate it, whether it’s in your bedroom near items you need each morning, on your desk, or anywhere you will see regularly.
To reap the benefits of a gratitude practice, you do not need to reread what you previously wrote, although some people add this step annually, quarterly, or monthly.
The key to this — and all practices — is to discover what works best for you and to make it simple enough to carry out consistently.
According to Tal Ben-Shahar, research shows that people who set aside time to focus on gratitude, “became more appreciative of life as a whole and enjoyed higher levels of well-being and positive emotions: they felt happier, more determined, more energetic, and more optimistic . . . [They] slept better, exercised more, and experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness.”
Spending one to two minutes a day to recognize what’s good in your life is a worthwhile investment. Discovering a gratitude practice that works for you will help you better appreciate positive experiences and ultimately increase your happiness and wellbeing.