🖊 Happy Habit #1: Gratitude Journal

• 3 min read

Describe three things you are grateful for and cultivate a feeling of warmth and appreciation.

Research Overview

Gratitude journaling is clearly shown to reduce negative emotions, improve sleep, increase productivity and boost happiness. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

Core concept

Gratitude is a feeling that emerges when we focus on what we already have, how things already are and choose to feel positive about it all—right now.

Building a habit of gratitude is foundational to increasing your happiness and well-being. Journaling is a well-evidenced route to increase gratefulness, but ultimately the practice of writing is just one of many ways to train your brain to think more grateful thoughts habitually.

"The grateful person accepts all of life as a gift" — Robert A Emmons

This powerful shift in thought allows us to feel satisfied by our present circumstance and soften our relentless pursuit of more and other. We begin to notice and appreciate the people in our lives that we love most. We notice the beauty in the world around us. We find it easier to accept ourselves as we are and be more compassionate to others.

Building a habit of gratitude has a snowball effect that ends up changing us into more grateful and happy people. You might not notice it immediately, but the more grateful thoughts you have, the more happiness you will experience in your life.

It changes your internal perception of your lived experience without needing to change anything outside of yourself.

Read that again.

It's deceivingly simple, yet amazingly powerful. It's free. It's available to us at every moment. We just need to make gratitude a habit!

Behavior tips

  • Buy a dedicated gratitude journal (I use The Five Minute Journal).
  • Place your journal and a pen by your bedside table.
  • Commit to practice at the same time every day (first thing upon waking or last thing before sleep)
  • Be specific. Use details. Visualize what you are grateful for.
  • Celebrate your journaling session with a gentle smile.
  • Begin noticing what you are grateful for throughout your day. Smile when your brain gives you a grateful thought.

My personal story

I first started experimenting with gratitude journaling back in 2015 when I was living in Brighton. After one of my closest friends in Israel died of a 10-year battle with cancer, I found myself in the darkness of British winter struggling with low mood and negative thoughts.

I think it was James Box (or someone else at Clearleft) who recommended I check out The Five-Minute Journal and the science of gratitude. It sounded too good to be true, but I had nothing to lose so I bought the journal and began practicing just before bed and right after waking.

It was surprising how quietly yet clearly the practice transformed my inner world. It wasn't immediate, and it wasn't profound, but I did notice a slow release of negative thought patterns. I felt small surges of positive emotion as I journaled and remembered "Hey, actually—yeah, I do have a good life. Things are okay. Losing Yoti is hard, but life is still good."

Looking back at my first journal a few weeks ago I realized that I had been very consistent in the first 5 days of the practice, but then began to taper off over the next three weeks. This is totally normal and to be expected—not something to beat yourself up over.

Building good personal habits is all about finding the frequency and duration that serves you and your needs. It's not about being a slave to the habit and doing something everyday for the rest of your life (unless that's what you need).

I hadn't yet learned the science of habit formation, or the breakthrough insights of BJ Fogg, so this behavior didn't become habit until later in my life during a more recent challenging season that forced me to dig deeper than I ever had before...

More on that in another issue. Thanks so much for reading the first weekly edition of Happy Habits!

See you next Friday.


  1. Gratitude as Psychotheraputic Intervention by Robert A. Emmons and Robin Stern
  2. How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain from Berkeley Greater Good
  3. The Research on Gratitude and Its Link with Love and Happiness from PositivePsychology.com
  4. 5 Scientific Facts that prove Gratitude is Good for You from Goodnet.org
  5. 7 Surprising Scientific Facts About Gratitude from PositivePsychlopedia.com

Dig Deeper

  1. Robert Emmons: The Power of Gratitude on Youtube
  2. Want to be happy? Be Grateful — David Steindel-Rast Ted Talk
  3. Gratefulness.org — A Network for Grateful Living

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