Train your brain to be happier by being grateful

GratitudeDo you have a positive outlook on life? I usually do (against all odds, you might say), but had never kept a daily journal of positive thoughts until 2014. For my birthday that year, my friend Sheila gave me a blank journal entitled, “Your story isn’t over yet.”

It was a devastating year, to say the least. Losing my brother to colon cancer that April, my father three months later and my dog three weeks after that seemed as good a time as any to actively look for positive things in my life. I took that blank journal and started writing down three things almost every day for which I was grateful.

Practicing gratitude can increase happiness by 25 per cent, according to a study done in 2003 by researchers Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough. The study found that students who wrote down five “gratitudes” were happier and physically healthier than those who wrote five hassles or five events that happened over the study period.

“Keeping a daily gratitude journal and jotting down 5 things you’re grateful for that happened that day is an ideal way to train your brain to be happy,” echoes Neil Pasricha, author of The Book of Awesome and The Happiness Equation.

Oprah Winfrey has been keeping a gratitude journal for more than 20 years, and believes if you’re thankful for what you have, you’ll end up having more. “If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough,” she says.

So, why not?

My first journal entry included gratitude for friends like Sheila. Since then, I’ve been pretty faithful about recording even the small things that make me smile.

Nature is a big source of delight, from sightings of Monarch butterflies and cardinals to a bright full moon, gorgeous sunrises and technicolour sunsets. I’ve been grateful for dinner with friends and family, finding a pair of earrings I thought had been lost, a client cheque in the mail. I even celebrated finding 15 cents while picking up garbage. Silly, I know, but who finds money anymore?

What have I learned?

  • You need to write every day. Moments that make you smile are fleeting, and it’s easier to capture them at the end of one day than even two days later.
  • Be specific. Don’t just be grateful for your family in general, but that you got a hug from your sons or your husband made dinner or your mom brought over butter tarts.
  • Take a picture if you must (rainbows are one of my weaknesses), but pause and notice and soak up the experience.
  • If you’re feeling uninspired, look back at some of your earlier entries. You will smile.

After three years of keeping the journal, I know this daily habit supports a more positive outlook on life. It doesn’t erase the bad, but it certainly trains you to pay attention to the good. I highly recommend it!

Do YOU keep a gratitude journal? What’s your experience?

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