Originally posted December 4, 2018.
Does Oprah’s Daily Gratitude Journal Really Work?
Let’s take a look at this idea of gratitude. Gratitude can bring you perspective. Cultivating an underlying foundation of gratitude can move you from negative energy to more positive energy. Focusing on the good aspects of your life can bring you contentment, while focusing on the negative aspects of your life can fell really bad. Oprah says daily gratitude journaling changed her life.
Hmm..but being grateful all the time isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s easier to get caught up in a swirl of emotion. We’re all human and can be hijacked by our limbic systems! When someone is actively aggressive towards you, such as working to take your job or if you are physically attacked, it’s not easy to process this anger and aggression away with gratitude. I don’t think it’s possible to for humans to always feel grateful.
So let’s acknowledge that processing negative feelings can be difficult. However, let’s take a look at this idea of gratitude. Does it help? What good does it do?
There is actually lots of research about whether or not there are benefits to Oprah’s suggested habit of gratitude journaling.
Gratitude journaling is defined simply: list 5 things, large and small, you are grateful for, in your life.
Robert Emmons, Ph.D., and Michel McCullough, Ph.D., conducted some research studies about first weekly gratitude journaling and then daily gratitude journaling over differing time periods on over 500 people.The research found that the participants who practiced gratitude journaling benefitted from the practice. The people who practiced gratitude journaling reported better mood, more optimism about their lives and more generosity and good works towards others. In addition, the positive effects were more pronounced in the studies where daily gratitude journaling was practiced for longer periods of time. The people who practiced daily gratitude journaling reported improved sleep as well. The researchers concluded that practicing daily gratitude journaling, listing about 5 things in your life you are grateful for, for at least 2 – 3 months has the most benefit.
Oprah is right on about the positive effects of working an habitual practice of daily gratitude journaling over time!
More recent research on gratitude looks at the simple act of writing a gratitude letter to someone else just once a week enhances well-being!
The research team of Joel Wong, Ph.D. and Joshua Brown, Ph.D. decided to test if expressive writing and gratitude writing had different effects on well being. They studied how the simple addition of writing a gratitude letter may affect the well-being of people facing mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety. They recruited 300 people with depression and anxiety who were all attending weekly counseling sessions. In addition to their therapy session, 1/3 of these people were asked to journal expressively about their life challenges, 1/3 of these people were asked to write a weekly gratitude letter to someone, while the last 1/3 just attended therapy. Well, Oprah is right once again! The gratitude group had the most gains in mental health, measured after both 4 weeks and 12 weeks. The most gains were realized after 12 weeks.
Well, Oprah is proved right once again!
Such a simple and pleasant addition to life with beneficial lasting effects!
What can you do to bring gratitude in to your life?
Say “Thank you” and add some appreciation for how much work from how many people it takes to get something done. Think about the chain of events that brought you the food on your table, all the people who are involved in bringing the food to the store. What an amazing event of coordination and work and dedication of many people it takes just to bring a salad to our tables!
Bring up gratitude with your friends and family. Ask what they are grateful for. It will probably be an interesting conversation.
Notice how many times you are critical in one hour, in one half of a day, in one day. Take a look at your critical thoughts and see if you have a habit of running people down, of running yourself down, of being too perfectionistic and not kind.
Let someone know how they have helped you in your life by writing a gratitude letter to him or her. You don’t have to send it if it doesn’t feel right, maybe it will feel right that day or later on.
Take notice of your surroundings and choose to mindfully focus on the beauty in the world around you.
I decided to get back to the simple exercise of writing down 3 – 5 things I am grateful for every day (Idid this once before in my life and got out of the habit). I also decided to try out writing a gratitude letter in my journal once a week. Note that I didn’t run out and buy a new journal, I just decided to use whatever notebooks and drawing pads I already had around the house. Plus, I decided to sit down and write a few overdue thank you notes as well… and then I was inspired to create thank you cards from my existing scrapbooking supplies! So, exploring gratitude turned out to be a very positive experience for me!
Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389 [Full text PDF].
Emmons, R.A. (2016). The little book of gratitude. London: Gaia.
Y. Joel Wong, Jesse Owen, Nicole T. Gabana, Joshua W. Brown, Sydney McInnis, Paul Toth & Lynn Gilman (2018) Does gratitude writing improve the mental health of psychotherapy clients? Evidence from a randomized controlled trial, Psychotherapy Research, 28:2, 192-202, DOI: 10.1080/10503307.2016.1169332