We are often asked what job we have, what we like to do, or what we did at the weekend, but we’re rarely asked if we’re happy. It can throw us off and make us really have to think. We are told throughout our lives that happiness can be found through achievement, material wealth, and finding true love, but in reality there is no magic key to happiness that will work for everyone. We need to get to know ourselves as an individual, understand what makes us get out of bed in the morning and what truly matters in our lives.
A good place to start is by writing in a gratitude journal. A gratitude journal is a diary in which you write the things that you are grateful for in your life, often on a daily on weekly basis. Your ‘gratitudes’ can be anything you want, from having a cosy bed to sleep in or a supportive partner to running a marathon! They can help us to notice the positives in our life, learn more about ourselves and help us to understand what truly matters to us.
Research has suggested that gratitude may help improve various aspects of happiness and wellbeing such as self esteem, optimism, general life satisfaction and lower stress levels. It may even help to fight depression.
We decided to investigate the effects of daily gratitude journaling for 30 days, using the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire once a week to see if our happiness improved. We wrote about our experiences and any changes that gratitude had made in our lives.
I started by writing short gratitudes, but soon discovered that elaborating and writing WHY I was grateful for each item made it more meaningful and helped me to explore my emotions around it, which was much more fulfilling. I began by writing about the most interesting or successful parts of my day, but it started to feel like I was just trying to impress myself. I realised that the things that made the most difference to my happiness were the relationships I share with loved ones, personal growth and my understanding of myself and the little unexpected moments, like watching a bird couple preen each other or a stimulating conversation with someone I don’t know too well.
Many of these small moments would have otherwise been forgotten, so I think the most important difference that the journaling made for me was to preserve them, so that I could look back and relive them. In difficult times I think a gratitude journal could help me to be resilient.
My happiness score went from 3.41 at the beginning of the challenge, up to 3.75 and by the end of the challenge was back down to 3.55. Although my score increased overall, I stayed firmly in the ‘neutral’ happiness zone the whole experiment, which surprised me, because although my mood can fluctuate, I think of myself as a reasonably happy person. In that respect the experience helped me learn more about myself, and I will now try to work on strategies to increase my overall happiness.
I admit it was slightly tiring writing three items every day- I’ve read that writing once a week can actually be more beneficial! But the journal did help me to notice and truly appreciate things I may otherwise have missed or taken for granted, and it enriched each day and made my memories more colourful.
I wanted to make sure I could stick to my gratitude challenge, so I used an app called HappyFeed and set a reminder on my phone. This meant I could journal digitally throughout the 30 days, and I could do it on the move.
I really enjoyed the gratitude challenge and for me, it felt like a small meditation at the end of the day, which really helped during those times I could not get in the headspace to actually meditate, or roll out my yoga mat.
Interestingly, I found that I couldn’t just write three things that were great that day and ended up thinking of more things to be grateful for, the more I wrote about them because I was better able to notice the nice little things had happened. I also noticed themes. I was most grateful for the people around me, and the things they had said to me. I would often talk about a change in perspective, for example a realisation I had had during the day – and how I was grateful for life’s ebbs and flows. I also found that I was extremely grateful for my current opportunities, and my desire to accept, learn and grow.
I chose to reflect at night, before bed. Each week my happiness score increased very slightly, as I began to engage with these happy and thankful thoughts. One morning I even woke to thoughts of how lucky I am to be able to sleep in a warm and comfy bed, and to have shelter. I could feel the positive effects.
I found recording what I am thankful for every day was very beneficial. For me, it highlighted the good I have in my life and made me more aware of what I can do to encourage these feelings of happiness. It has taught me to be more thankful for what I do have and to make sure I invest time in those that make me happy, no matter how busy life gets.
Even on the days where things weren’t so great, when I looked back at my day I was still able to find three things that made me laugh or smile every day for thirty days. I found those ‘not so great’ days, which were the hardest to recognise the good, the most beneficial to use the gratitude journal as it stopped me focusing on the negative and made me reflect.
Looking at my results from the initial happiness test to the last snapshot captured after thirty days of the gratitude journal, there is an increase in my happiness levels. I began the investigation ‘not particularly happy or unhappy’ ending on ‘rather happy, pretty happy.’
My weekly review of happiness saw its ups and downs across the month, but I was really pleased to see no score was as low as the first time I took the happiness test once starting the journal. This has led me to the conclusion that recording things to be thankful for is beneficial. It is no cure, but it is a lovely way to source the good in every day and be thankful for the things that make us happy. It has highlighted what I can do to pick myself up when I’m feeling not so great and that no matter how rubbish my day may be, I am pretty lucky.
Going forward I plan to continue recognising the things I am thankful for in my life but not daily. I hope using this method on a less frequent scale or when I haven’t had the best day will still have a positive effect on my overall happiness without the feeling of it becoming a chore.
Each of us had a unique experience completing thirty days of a gratitude journal but there were positive effects common across us all. Recording what we are thankful for made us all recognise what we are lucky to experience during our days and a big part of that is who we surround ourselves with. The gratitude journal allowed us the time and headspace to reflect on our day and be thankful for what we often take for granted.
We all had a slightly different approach in terms of recording our results, and all found doing this task daily a little tedious. But whether it be via an app, alarms and reminders or good old fashioned pen and paper, we all experienced an increase in our levels of happiness by recording a gratitude journal. Going forward I think it’s safe to say we would all recommend keeping track of what you are thankful for in your life to recognise what you do have and to familiarise yourself with your own triggers for what makes you happy.
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