Gratitude Journals, Gratitude Jars, and Gratitude's effect on Happiness

Two weeks ago we wrote about happiness and positivity and the recurring theme that making yourself happy and making others happy is entirely interconnected. By reaching out and doing something for others, whether it be a complimentary email, paying for someone’s coffee, or simply smiling as you walk down the street, you are contributing to both that individual’s happiness and your own.

Now that November is upon us, the month of Thanksgiving, we wanted to touch on another component that leads to happiness and that is gratitude. In Shawn Achor’s TED talk on the Happy Secret to Better Work, Achor lays out the ways in which you can train your brain to think more positively, which in turn improves happiness and productivity. One of those ways is of course, gratitude. He says that we should:

write down 3 new things for which you are grateful for 21 days
in a row. The pattern in your brain will change from scanning the world for the negative to scanning first for the positive.

I, (Kate), have personal experience with this practice. In the late winter/early spring of 2014 I was feeling uncertain about what I wanted to do with my life, career-wise. I, for better or worse, define myself by what I do, so being clueless in this area took a toll on my self-confidence. My sister had shown me Shawn Achor’s talk so I decided to try out a gratitude journal.

Gratitude Journal | Of Note Stationers

For a month, I started or ended the day with gratitude, writing down at least three gratitudes like these:

  • Grateful for: time to read, cleaning so I can wake to a fresh start, hot tea
  • Grateful for : morning chats, inspiration, and supportive parents
  • Grateful for: inspiring reading, Isabel, having fun even when exhausted

And sure enough I  became happier and had a more positive outlook. Like Achor says in his talk, I found myself scanning the world for the positive. I had to write gratitudes down every day so throughout the day I was making mental notes of the good, of things for which to be grateful. I even found myself figuring out how to respond positively to things that would have, in the past, made me react negatively.

I am human and of course once I was feeling good I didn't continue practicing, but it was a tool I had in my back pocket to use again when I was feeling low. This happened again a year later and my boyfriend kindly suggested that we commit to sharing three gratitudes a day with each other. We were long distance at the time while he was in grad school, so we emailed each other three gratitudes for 2 months straight.

  • Grateful for: a moment where I felt like "I want to remember this", bad TV ;), and looking forward to all that is to come.
  • Grateful: to be surrounded by good people, for a bit of travel for a change of pace, scenery, and to see college friends, for greenery.
  • Grateful for: continuing to connect with my dad, the resilience of relationships, the beautiful sky tonight.

Again the effects were palpable. So many exclamation points and smiley faces were exchanged. We were enjoying it and feeling great about the practice.  

Personally, I’ve experienced the positive effects of writing gratitudes in a journal and in emails, but I wanted to share one more idea of how to keep gratitudes, which I think is perhaps the most accessible and makes for a great gift. For this I turned to our good friend Liz who has kindly shared photos of her gratitude jar and written a little bit about it:

Gratitude Jar | Of Note Stationers
Gratitude Jar | Of Note Stationers

I'm not sure where my mom found this online. She gave it to me last Christmas along with the beautiful scrap paper to write small notes of gratitude. It's a daily reminder to stop, take a breath, and reflect (especially in the depths of a frustrating, stressful, cold day) on the ways--big and small--that I am so lucky.  It could be something tiny: "12/29, I am grateful for coffee" or something I take for granted: "02/02 I am grateful for my fridge full of food" or something huge: "03/14, I am grateful for my mom" or something I want to remember: "I'm grateful that my legs can carry me to 26.2." It doesn't matter what you write. It matters that you're taking the time to recognize even the smallest piece of joy or good fortune in your life. And the more you do it, the more you start notice how lucky you are.

Thank you Liz, so very much, for sharing.

Two more resources, before we sign off:

  • A Happiness 101 course that sends you 7 emails in 7 days challenging you to practice happiness habits. Full of inspiration, reminders, and good vibes.
  • The Five Minute Journal designed exactly for the purpose of daily gratitudes and more, including daily affirmations and inspirational quotes.  

Grateful for each and every one of you,

Kate and Isabel