Gratitude Journals – Worth the Hype?

It’s early January, and if you’re on social media you can’t fail to have seen posts by friends, family or influencers telling everyone what they will or won’t be doing for 2019. I’m also getting bombarded by adverts for things like gratitude journals. What’s this, I thought, another opportunity to flog pretty notebooks and live an Instagram-worthy life? Well yes, of course it is, but actually, practising gratitude is worth looking into further.

As Suffolk Babies’ self-appointed bullshit-buster and teller of truths, I have been investigating this trend of “gratitude”. In case you haven’t come across them before, gratitude journals are a simple concept: at the end of each day write down some things in your life you are grateful for. They can be big things or tiny things – the love of your children, or the smell of freshly baked bread, it really doesn’t matter. The point is that you spend some time focusing on the good things in your life, especially at the end of the day so you go to bed with positive thoughts.

Obviously the notion of “counting your blessings” has been around forever, but now scientists are studying what this practise actually does for the brain.

For adults and older children keeping a gratitude journal has been shown to have long lasting positive effects. One study showed that keeping a gratitude journal for just two weeks had positive benefits lasting 6 months.

Some people recommend putting notes in a jar whenever things go well – you can easily do this with kids too. Then when you have a bad day, or at the end of the year, you can read the notes, so you get a double benefit – the positive feeling from writing the note and the positive feeling from remembering it again later.

Or when you are sitting together as a family just talk about what went well today. It’s a common strategy in coaching people to ask “what went well?”

Here’s a little video about the positives of gratitude, which you might find interesting.

What this focus on gratitude is doing, is creating a way of thinking more positive thoughts. The more you do of that the better.

Using a gratitude journal, or writing notes, is just a way of practising this so it becomes part of your life. Meditation is another proven way of increasing someone’s positive thoughts.

As humans, we are hard-wired to look for the negatives. It keeps us safe, always being on the look out for the tiger in the bushes, or the person about to literally stab you in the back and steal your stuff. But while that was useful in prehistoric times, it doesn’t do anything to make us feel good in this day and age, where we are pretty physically safe most of the time. So we have a tendency to look for something, anything, negative to focus on, even if it’s not a real threat or problem. It can take a bit of work to change our thinking patterns and work towards more positive and fewer negative thoughts.

It turns out that in order to have a positive attitude there is a magic ratio of positive to negative thoughts we need to have, which is 3 positive thoughts to every negative one. These don’t have to be massively over-the-moon positive, neutral thoughts are fine, just not negative.

If you fall below this ratio you are more likely to be depressed, anxious or miserable. If you go above this ratio, e.g. 5 positive to 1 negative thought you can be said to be flourishing.

A practise of “Counting your blessings” is a great way to bring your number of positive thoughts up.

It all sounds good, and well worth a try for something that’ll only take a few minutes a day. So I’ve jumped on the bandwagon, got myself a pretty notebook, which I may even post a picture of on Instagram! #downwiththekids. I started on 1st January, and it’s going well so far. I’ll report back on my experiment later!

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