When giving suggestions for managing stress, anxiety, depression, and overall mental health, I often suggest journalling or more specifically, using a gratitude journal. With this post I wanted to gather a lot of the benefits together in one post, so if you’re considering starting a gratitude journal, this may inspire you to move forward with the practice.
But first of all, what is a gratitude journal? I first came across them while I was in grad school when a fellow student raved about her newly formed habit using one of the popular “5 Minute Journals.” It was near the winter holidays, so I treated myself to one I found on amazon while I was shopping for gifts. The journal I purchased had prompts for the morning and a few for the evening. What I learned from creating this daily practice was to put some thought into it and connect with the feelings. Sure, I’m grateful for my best friend in general, but I found it more effective to recognize the thoughts and feelings of being grateful for my best friend. So I may end up jotting down something like, “I’m grateful that when I need someone to talk to, my best friend makes time for me and listens without judgment.” Although there are many options available to purchase, you can easily do it yourself or look for prompts online.
Now onto the benefits of gratitude journaling. O’Connell et al. (2018) found that friendships benefitted from the use of a gratitude journal as there were improvements in friendships with people who took the time to journal. Gratitude journaling makes one aware of their social connections (Ducasse et al., 2019) which leads to positive social experiences. The improved friendships and increase in social connections all leads to a positive effect on life satisfaction (O’Connell et al., 2018). All this just from a gratitude journal and a few minutes each day!
Along with improving connections with others, there are various mental health benefits to using a gratitude journal. There is a reduction in depression as well a feelings of anxiety (Ducasse et al., 2019; Newman et al, 2021; O’Connell et al., 2017). Are you struggling with the outcomes of childhood trauma? Xiang et al, (2021) found that survivors of childhood trauma have difficulty with feelings of gratitude due to trauma’s effect on family dynamics and support systems. Developing a habit of gratitude journaling can offset this deficit and aid in creating healthy socialization. Many people struggled during COVID with loneliness and some people are just in a phase of life that makes loneliness difficult to avoid. A gratitude journal has been found to offset the effects of loneliness (Caputo, 2015).
Perhaps you have recently gone through a divorce and you and your ex-spouse are finding it difficult to forgive and it’s making co-parenting difficult. A study looking at the benefit of using a gratitude journal to facilitate forgiveness with divorced parents found that the use of a gratitude journal was more effective than other types of journaling and went on to suggest it as a therapy intervention (Rye et al., 2012). Perhaps the forgiveness goes beyond ex-spouses and it helps contribute to the friendship and social benefits?
What about benefits other than mental health and social connections? There are possibly many. Newman et al. (2021) indicated a regular practice of gratitude journaling results in a lower heart rate, reduced blood pressure, improved sleep, less stress, and a tendency to exercise more frequently. Although Jans-Beken et al. (2020) did not necessarily find similar results, they did indicate that the use of a gratitude journal supports overall life satisfaction which may indirectly, positively affect physical health.
With varied mental health, social, and physiological benefits, you can see why I often suggest it as a therapeutic option. So grab your pen and paper and start journaling!
Caputo, A. (2015). The relationship between gratitude and loneliness: The potential benefits of gratitude for promoting social bonds. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 11(2), 323-334. https://doi.org/10.5964/ejop.v11i2.826
Ducasse, D., Dassa, D., Quartet, P., Brand, AV., Walter, A., Guillaume, S. Jaussent, I., Ollié, E., & Brand-Arpon, V. (2019). Gratitude diary for the management of suicidal inpatients: A randomized controlled trial. Depression & Anxiety, 36(5), 400-411. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22877
Jans-Beken, L., Jacobs, N., Janssens, M. Peeters, S. Reijnders, J. Lechner, L., & Lataster, J. (2020). Gratitude and health: An updated review. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 15(6), 743-782. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2019.1651888
Newman, DB., Gordon, AM., & Mendes, WB. (2021). Comparing daily physiological benefits of gratitude and optimism using a digital platform. Emotion, 21(7), 1357-1365. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0001025
O’Connell, BH., O’Shea, D., & Gallagher, S. (2017). Feeling thanks and saying thanks: A randomized controlled trial examining if and how socially oriented gratitude journals work. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 73(10), 1280-1300. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22469
O’Connell, BH., O’Shea, D., & Gallagher, S. (2018). Examining psychosocial pathways underlying gratitude interventions: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Happiness Studies, 19(8), 2421-2444. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-017-9931-5
Rye, M., Fleri, A., Moore, C., Worthington, E., Wade, N., Sandage, S., & Cook, K. (2012). Evaluation of an intervention designed to help divorced parents forgive their ex-spouse. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 53(3), 231-245. https://doi.org/10.1080/10502556.2012.663275
Xiang, Y., Chen, D., Zhao, J. (2021). How is childhood abuse associated with moral disgust? The mediating role of social support and gratitude–based on the theory of mind. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 30(8), 1028-1040. https://doi.org/10.1080/10926771.2020.1806974