What is Gratitude?
Before we get started with gratitude journaling, please take the time to read the information below to avoid any further misconceptions about what gratitude is and why specific therapies use it in addition to other treatment options. In simple terms, gratitude is feeling thankful and appreciative of the positive things in one’s life. It is one of the more complex emotions that involves recognising something pleasing and feeling a sense of joy or satisfaction in response to them. Gratitude can arise in response to a specific event or situation or be a more general attitude towards life.
The concept of gratitude has its roots in ancient philosophical and religious traditions. For example, in the Western world, gratitude was often associated with grace or divine favour. It was seen as a way of acknowledging the blessings bestowed upon an individual by a higher power. In Eastern traditions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, gratitude is also considered an important virtue and is often cultivated through meditation and other spiritual practices.
Over time, studies on gratitude by psychologists and other researchers found many benefits for mental and physical health. For example, studies have shown that cultivating gratitude can increase happiness, reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep quality, and even boost the immune system. Gratitude is also associated with higher levels of social support and greater resilience in the face of adversity.
Gratitude practises and Neuroscience.
More resources and advancements in neuroscience have helped interpret the mechanisms behind gratitude and its effects on the brain.
- Reward centres: Studies have shown that experiencing gratitude activates the brain’s reward centres, including the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and the striatum. These brain regions process reward and pleasure, suggesting that gratitude may be an inherently rewarding experience.
- Neurotransmitters: The experience of gratitude has been associated with the release of certain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are associated with positive emotions and can contribute to feelings of well-being and happiness.
- Prefrontal cortex: The prefrontal cortex is a brain region involved in decision-making, social cognition, and emotional regulation. Studies have shown that gratitude is associated with increased activity in this region, suggesting that gratitude may help us regulate our emotions and make more prosocial decisions.
- Grey matter volume: Studies have also found that practising gratitude can increase the volume of grey matter in specific brain regions, including the right inferior temporal gyrus. This brain region is involved in social cognition and empathy, suggesting that gratitude may help us feel more connected to others.
- Heart rate variability: Research has shown that practising gratitude can increase heart rate variability, a measure of the instability between heartbeats. This is a sign of better cardiovascular health and is associated with reduced stress and anxiety.
In summary, gratitude is a complex emotion deeply rooted in philosophical and religious traditions. Today, gratitude is an essential aspect of mental and physical health and is associated with various benefits. Neuroscience research shows gratitude is a rewarding experience that can help us regulate our emotions and make more prosocial decisions.
Types of Gratitude Practise
There are many different forms of gratitude practice that individuals can incorporate into their daily lives. Here are some common examples:
- Gratitude journaling: Write down things you are grateful for each day. For more information, read Your Guide to Journaling
- Gratitude meditation: Focusing on feelings of gratitude during meditation.
- Gratitude letters: Write a letter to someone you are thankful for and deliver it to them in person.
- Gratitude jar: Write down things you are grateful for and place them in a pot to read later.
- Gratitude walks: Walking and intentionally focusing on something you are thankful for in your environment.
- Gratitude rituals: Incorporating a gratitude practice into a daily or weekly routine, such as saying gratitude before meals.
- Gratitude affirmations: Saying positive statements about what you are grateful for, such as “I am grateful for my health and my loved ones.”
- Gratitude visualisations: Visualising yourself feeling grateful and expressing thanks for things you have in your life, such as your health, relationships, or accomplishments.
- Gratitude prompts: Use prompts to help you think about what you are grateful for, such as “What made you smile today?” or “What positive thing happened this week?”
- Gratitude buddy: Partnering up with someone to share things you are grateful for with each other regularly.
- Gratitude art: Creating art that reflects things you are grateful for, such as drawing, painting, or collage.
- Gratitude scavenger hunt: Going on a scavenger hunt and finding things in your environment that you are grateful for, such as the sun, trees, or the kindness of strangers.
- Gratitude games: Playing games with family or friends that involve expressing gratitude, such as sharing things you are thankful for in a group or playing gratitude-themed board games.
- Gratitude social media: Using social media to express gratitude publicly, such as sharing posts or stories about things you are grateful for or commenting on other people’s posts with words of appreciation.
Remember, the most effective gratitude practice is the one that resonates with you and fits into your daily routine. You may need to experiment with different forms to find the best one. These are just a few examples, and many other ways to cultivate gratitude in daily life exist. The key is to find a practice that resonates with you and make it a habit.
The Holistic Approach
Overall, holistic approaches to gratitude recognise that gratitude is a feeling and a way of life. By incorporating gratitude into various aspects of our lives, we can promote greater well-being and connection with ourselves and others.
A holistic approach refers to a process that considers the whole person and all facets of their life when seeking to promote health and well-being, including physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and environmental factors. A holistic approach acknowledges that these different aspects of a person’s life are interconnected.
In healthcare, a holistic approach may involve addressing not only an individual’s physical symptoms but also their emotional and social needs. For example, a holistic approach to treating chronic pain affects which medication to prescribe and addresses the emotional and psychological factors contributing to the pain, such as stress, anxiety, or depression.
In programs such as MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), a holistic approach may involve teaching gratitude practices and addressing other factors contributing to stress and well-being, such as sleep, exercise, nutrition, social support, and self-care. This approach acknowledges that gratitude is just one aspect of overall well-being and that promoting more significant health and well-being requires a comprehensive and integrated approach.
Gratitude journaling is a popular technique for cultivating gratitude and positive emotions. It involves regularly writing down things one is grateful for, typically in a journal or notebook. The practice is done either daily, weekly, or whenever one needs to focus on gratitude.
Here are some ways in which journaling can help cultivate gratitude:
- Focusing on the positive: When we write down things we’re grateful for, we focus on the favourable aspects of our lives. This can help shift our perspective away from negative thoughts and feelings and towards a more optimistic outlook.
- Increase awareness: Gratitude journaling can help us become more aware of the many things we have to be grateful for in our lives, from small pleasures to significant accomplishments. By paying attention to these things and writing them down, we are more likely to notice and appreciate them now.
- Enhance emotional well-being: Gratitude journaling improves emotional well-being, including reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can help us feel more positive emotions like happiness, contentment, and joy.
- Strengthen relationships: Expressing gratitude in a journal can also help us appreciate the people in our lives and their positive impact on us. This can strengthen our relationships with others and help us feel more connected to them.
- Build resilience: Cultivating gratitude through journaling can help build resilience by promoting a more positive outlook and increasing our ability to cope with adversity.
To get the most out of your gratitude journal, it’s essential to be specific and detailed when writing down things you are grateful for. Rather than simply saying, “I’m grateful for my family,” write, “I’m grateful for how my sister always listens to and supports me no matter what.” This level of specificity can help us appreciate the people and things we’re grateful for and can make the practice of gratitude journaling even more effective.
A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology explored the effects of gratitude journaling on the well-being of college students. In the study, participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a gratitude journaling group, a hassles journaling group, or a control group.
The gratitude journaling group was asked to write down three things they were grateful for each day, while the hassles journaling group was asked to write down three things that had annoyed or bothered them. Finally, the control group was asked to write down events that had happened to them each day without focusing on either positive or negative experiences.
After two weeks of journaling, the participants completed well-being measures, including positive affect, negative affect, and life satisfaction. The results showed that the gratitude journaling group had significantly higher positive affect and life satisfaction levels than the hassles journaling and control groups. In addition, the gratitude journaling group also had lower levels of negative affect than the hassles journaling group.
This study provides evidence for the effectiveness of gratitude journaling in improving well-being, specifically in terms of increasing positive emotions and life satisfaction and reducing negative emotions. It also highlights the importance of focusing on positive experiences and feelings rather than negative ones to cultivate greater well-being.
Altogether, this study suggests that gratitude journaling can be a simple yet powerful tool for improving well-being and easily integrated into daily life for individuals looking to cultivate incredible gratitude and positivity.
Forms of Therapy where Gratitude Journaling is beneficial
Yes, gratitude journaling can be incorporated into various therapeutic approaches and techniques and may be particularly helpful in enhancing the effectiveness of specific therapies. Here are a few examples:
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT): CBT is widely used to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviours. Gratitude journaling can be incorporated into CBT by helping clients focus on positive aspects of their lives and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs.
- Positive psychology interventions: Positive psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on studying positive emotions, strengths, and well-being. Gratitude journaling is a commonly-used positive psychology intervention that can be used to promote positive feelings and well-being.
- Mindfulness-based interventions: Mindfulness-based interventions, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), incorporate mindfulness practices to help individuals cultivate awareness and acceptance of their thoughts and emotions. Gratitude journaling is a mindfulness practice that encourages individuals to focus on the present moment and notice the positive aspects of their lives.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): ACT is a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals develop psychological flexibility and acceptance of their experiences. Gratitude journaling is used in ACT to assist individuals in focusing on positive aspects of their lives and cultivating a sense of gratitude and acceptance.
- Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT): DBT is a type of therapy that focuses on teaching individuals skills to manage intense emotions and improve relationships. Gratitude journaling is incorporated into DBT by helping individuals focus on positive aspects of their relationships and experiences, which can promote feelings of connection and reduce emotional distress.
- Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT): SFBT focuses on identifying and building upon individuals’ strengths and resources to achieve their goals. Gratitude journaling can be used in SFBT by helping individuals identify and focus on positive aspects of their lives and relationships that they can leverage to achieve their goals.
- Narrative therapy: Narrative therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals reframe their life stories and narratives in a more positive and empowering way. Gratitude journaling is used in narrative therapy by assisting individuals in identifying and focusing on positive aspects of their lives and relationships incorporated into their narratives.
- Family therapy: Family therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on improving communication and relationships within families. Gratitude journaling can be used in family therapy by encouraging family members to share things they’re grateful for about each other and their relationships, promoting feelings of connection and closeness.
- Trauma-focused therapies: Trauma-focused therapies, such as eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) and cognitive processing therapy (CPT), focus on helping individuals process and recover from traumatic experiences. Gratitude journaling in these therapies assists individuals in focusing on positive aspects of their lives and relationships that can provide a sense of safety and comfort during their recovery.
These are just a few examples of how gratitude journaling is incorporated into various forms of therapy to promote well-being and enhance the effectiveness of treatment. Speak to a qualified mental health expert for more information to avoid a misdiagnosis or internet scams.
The Effectiveness of Gratitude Journaling
- Positive focus: Gratitude journaling helps individuals focus on positive aspects of their lives and experiences. Individuals can cultivate a more positive outlook by intentionally focusing on positive events, experiences, and people, increasing feelings of happiness, contentment, and well-being. This positive focus can also help individuals reframe negative experiences or situations in a more positive light, reducing stress and negative emotions.
- Cognitive reframing: Gratitude journaling can help individuals reframe negative or unhelpful thoughts into more positive and realistic ones. For example, if someone feels down about their job, they can focus on things they are grateful for, such as supportive colleagues or a flexible schedule. This type of cognitive reframing can help individuals shift their mindset from a negative to a more positive one, leading to improved mood and well-being.
- Improved relationships: Expressing gratitude towards others can improve relationships and increase feelings of social support and connection. Gratitude journaling can help individuals focus on the positive aspects of their relationships and express appreciation towards others, strengthening those relationships and increasing feelings of social support and connection. This can lead to increased feelings of happiness, contentment, and well-being.
- Increased resilience: Gratitude journaling can help individuals develop stability by focusing on positive aspects of their lives and experiences. Individuals can cultivate a more positive outlook and develop the skills and resources necessary to cope with adversity and stress by focusing on what they are grateful for. This can lead to increased resilience and improved ability to cope with difficult situations.
- Neurological changes: Gratitude journaling stimulates the brain’s reward centre, promoting positive emotions and feelings of pleasure. When individuals focus on positive aspects of their lives and experiences, it can activate the release of dopamine and other feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain, enhancing mood and well-being.
Other things to know about gratitude journaling:
- Frequency and duration: To see any benefits of gratitude journaling, it’s essential to do it regularly and consistently. This could mean writing in a gratitude journal daily or a few times a week. The duration of each gratitude journaling session can vary, but many experts recommend spending at least 5-10 minutes writing in a gratitude journal each time.
- Specificity: In a gratitude journal, you must be specific about what you appreciate. Instead of just writing, “I’m grateful for my family,” try to be more precise, such as “I’m grateful for how my spouse always listens to me when I’m feeling stressed.”
- Authenticity: Your writing must be authentic and sincere to get the most benefit from gratitude journaling. Write about things that truly matter to you rather than just going through the motions.
- Personalisation: Gratitude journaling is a personal practice, so making it your own is essential. Choose a journal that feels special to you, use your own prompts or questions, or even incorporate other creative elements into your journaling practice. Read Let’s Get Creative for more information on Art Journaling.
- Flexibility: While gratitude journaling is often in written form, there are many other ways to practice gratitude, such as through meditation, visualisation, or simply expressing gratitude verbally to others and finding the method that works best for you and fits your lifestyle.
Gratitude journaling is a simple but powerful practice that can benefit mental and emotional well-being. Regularly focusing on the positive aspects of our lives can cultivate a greater sense of happiness, contentment, and resilience.
Here’s an example of a short gratitude journal entry from my first journal while I was suffering from anxiety:
Today, I’m feeling grateful for the following:
- My partner always listens to and helps me through my anxiety, mainly through his humour or by making me feel loved by cooking my favourite meal.
- My comfortable bed provides a safe and cosy place to rest and relax. I have 3 pillows, a therapy blanket that is nice and heavy and a diffuser that gives off the most incredible smell of lavender.
- My therapist helps me work through my fear and provides a space to be heard and understood without judgement and interrupting me with their opinions.
- The beautiful sunset I saw on my walk today reminded me of the beauty and wonder in the world. I had a nostalgic moment when I thought of my homeland and the sky, inspiring my art even today.
- My supportive friends check in on me and remind me that I’m not alone in my struggles. We share our stories, challenges and wins, making me feel less alone on the awful days.
By focusing on these positive aspects of my life, I could shift attention away from my anxiety and towards the things that bring joy and feelings of being supported, reducing stress and anxiety and drastically improving my perspective on my situation. Additionally, by writing these things down in a gratitude journal, I can revisit them whenever needed, a reminder of the positive things in life.
Instructions for effective gratitude journaling
Choose a time and place to write that is comfortable and convenient for you. It’s important to make gratitude journaling a part of your routine, so find the time and place to commit to it.
- Focus on the present moment. Mindfulness can help you stay focused on the positive aspects of your life and cultivate a sense of gratitude. Take a few deep breaths and centre yourself before you begin writing.
- Write in a journal or notebook that you enjoy using. It can be a simple notebook or a more elaborate journal. Choose something that feels special and meaningful to you.
- Reflect on the positive aspects of your life. This could be anything from a kind gesture someone did for you to the feeling of sunshine on your face. Allow yourself to sink into the experience and savour the positive emotions that arise.
- Write down three things that you appreciate. Try to be as specific and detailed as possible, and focus on the experience of gratitude itself.
- Consider adding more detail or context to your entries as you go. Reflect on why a particular experience or person makes you feel grateful, for example.
- Use gratitude journaling to shift your focus from negative thoughts to positive ones. When you’re feeling stressed or anxious, take a few moments to write down something you value., which can help you shift your mindset and feel more positive.
- Make gratitude journaling a regular habit. Try writing in your journal at least a few times weekly or daily. Consistency is vital when it comes to cultivating a sense of gratitude. By tracking your habits, it’s easier to prevail in creating new routines.
To get the most out of gratitude journaling, it’s crucial to approach it with an open and curious mind and to allow yourself to sink into the feelings of gratitude that arise as you write. Don’t worry too much about the format or structure of your entries – the most important thing is to focus on your life’s positive aspects and cultivate a sense of gratitude.
Comparing other types of journaling
Mindfulness journaling and Art journaling are other approaches that can cultivate positive emotions and improve well-being. Here is a quick list of the differences and similarities:
- Focus on the present moment: Mindfulness and art journaling both involves focusing on the present moment, which can help promote a sense of calm and relaxation. Gratitude journaling can also include focusing on the present moment by appreciating everyday things.
- Promote self-awareness: Mindfulness involves developing awareness of our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations, while art journaling can help us explore and express our feelings and experiences. Gratitude journaling promotes self-awareness by allowing us to focus on positive aspects and what we value in life.
- Encourage creativity: Art journaling involves using various art materials and techniques to express ourselves, which can be a creative and enjoyable experience. On the other hand, gratitude journaling typically involves simply writing down things we’re grateful for, which may need to be more visually stimulating and creatively engaging.
- Foster positive emotions: All three practices – mindfulness journaling, art journaling, and gratitude journaling – can help cultivate positive emotions like appreciation, joy, and contentment. However, gratitude journaling is focused explicitly on developing appreciation, while mindfulness and art journaling may have broader goals related to emotional well-being.
- Promote different types of reflection: Gratitude journaling typically involves reflecting on things we value. Mindfulness and art journaling can involve more open-ended assessment and exploration of our thoughts and emotions.
Across-the-board, mindfulness journaling, art journaling, and gratitude journaling are all practices that can cultivate positive emotions and improve well-being. Still, they differ in terms of their specific goals and techniques. Therefore, depending on an individual’s interests and needs, one or more of these practices may be particularly beneficial for cultivating gratitude and other positive emotions.
In conclusion, with various prompts and exercises available, anyone can start a gratitude journaling practice, regardless of age or experience. By taking a few minutes each day to reflect on the positive aspects of our lives, we can cultivate a more positive outlook and relieve stress and anxiety.
So if you’re looking for a way to bring more appreciation and positivity into your life, try gratitude journaling. With consistency and commitment, you can transform your mindset and experience the many benefits of this simple yet powerful practice. The upcoming Guide to Journaling course will explore many more forms of journaling, provide prompts and explain in more detail how to get into the right state of mind for spectacular results. Check it out now by clicking here, or buy the GrowthWorks Journaling Journey book for 365 days of prompts and inspiration here.