Illustration of a woman writing in her gratitude journal.

Improve your mood with a gratitude journal

Back in the 1980s, Bobby McFerrin wrote a catchy tune about dealing with hard times. The title is repeated throughout the lyrics: “Don’t worry, be happy.”

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It may sound trite, but it’s good advice. And one way we can lift ourselves out of a funk – COVID-19 pandemic, anyone? – is to be grateful for the good things we still have.

“Gratitude can help nourish a different type of world view rather than one that’s sad and depressed,” said Steve Mattern, LCPC, senior vice president of Mission Services for OSF HealthCare. “Being grateful and thankful can help us become much happier people.”

Research supports that stance. In fact, studies indicate that simply writing about your gratitude can improve your mood and mental health.

All kinds of options

So, how about starting a gratitude journal?

It’s really easy. Your journal doesn’t even have to be written or compiled in a diary-style book.

“Writing is not for everyone,” Steve said. “But you can sketch, paint, take photographs, or use the voice recorder on your phone and just talk. You can jot one thing you’re thankful for every day on your calendar, or maybe do it in the notes app on your smart phone.”

It’s your journal, so you can do what you want with it. You can even mix things up. Keep it in your phone or computer. Store it in the cloud. Write words one day, take a picture the next, a video the next.

Figure out what works best with your individual talent and preference.

Get a partner, create a habit

Of course, keeping any kind of journal can be like a New Year’s resolution. Some great ideas start well and vanish quickly.

The first step to success is creating a habit.

“I would start by telling another person or two of your plans and have them do it with you,” Steve said. “If I try to create a habit and don’t tell anyone, it’s easy to slide back to your current state. Having a partner adds accountability.”

Try to pick a time of day and commit that time to your journal. It doesn’t have to be long. Five or 10 minutes will work. You can always spend more time, but you have to start somewhere.

Proponents of developing good habits say that if you can do something 21 days in a row, it becomes part of your routine.

“But it doesn’t have to be daily,” Steve said. “I’m a firm believer in the art of gradualness. Maybe you do every other day, or twice a week. What you want to do is develop frequency.

“Be gentle. You can give yourself grace. Missing one day doesn’t mean failure. In any discipline, you must have rigor. But you can let it emerge over time.”

Start simple

You can do the same with the actual content of your journal. Start simple and gradually build.

“Think of just one good thing you can be thankful for,” Steve said. “Food. A gift. A friend. Gas in the car.”

And go from there.

One of the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal is that you can revisit your entries. They can pick you up on a rough day, and they can sharpen your awareness anytime.

“The idea of remembering our blessings really strengthens our ability to be more attentive to them in daily life,” Steve said.

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About Author: Kirk Wessler

After being a writer for OSF HealthCare for three years, Kirk Wessler retired in January 2022. A Peoria native and graduate of Bradley University, Kirk's experience included working for newspapers in Missouri, Texas and the Peoria Journal Star.

Kirk and his wife, Mary Frances, have five sons, four daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren. Kirk plans to spend his retirement on the golf course, mastering the guitar and traveling.

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Categories: Mental Health, Spiritual Health