Tips on Keeping a Gratitude Journal

Research shows that keeping a journal can be great for our mental health. Research also shows that practicing gratitude can be great for our mental health.

So keeping a gratitude journal should be extra-great for our mental health, right?

Well… it’s a bit more complicated than that. Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. It depends on which study you look at.  In this excellent blog post from Greater Good Magazine, Jason Marsh consults with UC-Davis professor (and gratitude expert) Robert Emmons on how to make the most of your gratitude journal.

His research-backed tips are:

  • Don’t just go through the motions.  Research has shown that journaling is more effective if you first make the decision to become happier and more grateful. Without taking this first step, journaling may not actually be productive.
  • Go for depth over breadth. Instead of naming as many things as possible, delve into the details of one specific thing.
  • Get personal. Marsh explains, Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.”
  • Try subtraction, not just addition. It may help to reflect on what your life would be like if you didn’t have something, rather than thinking about all the good things you do have.
  • Savor surprises. These unexpected moments may bring you to a greater depth of gratitude, so be sure to make note of any serendipitous opportunities or events.
  • Don’t overdo it. Instead of writing every day, research has shown that journaling once a week may lead to greater happiness than three or more times per week.
The one that stood out to me was the last one: Don’t overdo it. I was surprised (and a bit relieved) to read that journaling once or twice a week can actually be more helpful than journaling every day.

You can read more about these tips, including more in-depth research on gratitude in Marsh’s original post.

Eric McClerren, LAPC

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