Why you should keep a gratitude diary or happiness journal.

posted in: Articles | 14

Every evening, minus a few exceptions, the first thing I do when I get in bed is write in my gratitude journal. I take a couple of minutes to answer questions about my happiness such as ‘what am I grateful for?’, ‘what did I do great today?’, and ‘what amazing things happened today?’.


It’s something that I absolutely love doing, and it has provided me with more benefits that I initially could imagine. I don’t believe in quick fixes when it comes to happiness, I think it’s something that you cultivate by years of practice. Inner peace comes to a great extent down to disciplining the mind, so that you live life on your own terms. But if there’s one thing that has made a huge instant impact on my level of happiness, it’s a gratitude journal.


I recommend keeping one to everyone who will listen.


One of my favorite side effects of consequently writing in my journal, is that I look out for moments happiness during the day. In a way, it has made me more mindful about the present moment, the whole day long.


What I realized is that my happiness journal hardly ever contains achievements or accomplishments. It mostly holds precious moments of laughter with my husband, a kind note from a friend, an interesting conversation with a stranger.


This realization has drastically shifted my perspective throughout the day.


Whereas I used to be more productivity-focused, I now set myself up for a day with as many of those little happiness moments as possible.


When I’m stressing about a (self-made) deadline, I can let go more easily now, because I know that in the end, I won’t judge the value of my day on how much work I got done. I will, however, write about how I celebrated getting something done with an hour of reading in the hammock on the porch, while the sun warmed my feet and the squirrels chased each other in the garden.


For me, my journal is a great reminder to focus on the positive, which has definitely increased my happiness. I love reading previous entries when I’m having a rough day, or when I’m having a great day and I feel like doing even better. I always end up with a big blissful smile on my face.


I used to use the 5 Minute Journal, which is great. I do think, though, that it focuses quite a bit on productivity, rather than solely on gratitude, with questions such as ‘how could I have made today better?’. I wanted mine to be a moment of happiness only, so I made my own. It’s still inspired by my first journal, and I do recommend getting it if you don’t feel like making one. You can also just use a plain notebook and write down things you’re grateful for.


All that matters is that you actively try to shift your focus to the positive things in your day.


Research has shown over and over again that what we repeatedly sense, feel, and think is slowly but surely sculpting our neural structure1, especially when your gratitude involves other people. A great way of involving others in your shift to the positive is by my friend Diviya’s project Choose Gratitude: “I carry around gratitude cards, because there are acts of kindness occurring all around us. Since I have started practicing gratitude, and focusing on the positive, my whole perception has changed. More than brightening up another’s day, it is a gentle reminder to be aware, connect with others and be present in the moment. I truly believe that if you incorporate practices into your daily life that encourage gratitude, a positive outlook, increase your hope and optimism, and allow you to connect, you will notice a huge difference in your life.”


Do you keep a journal? Have you ever thought of gratitude cards? What are your experiences so far? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.


1 Eric R. Kandel, In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007); Joseph E. LeDoux, Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are (New York: Penguin Books, 2003); Seligman, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life (New York: Vintage, 2006).

14 Responses

  1. Michael Knouse
    | Reply

    I wholeheartedly agree that keeping a gratitude journal is a life changing experience. I’ve been keeping one for the past 2 years and I swear by this practice. It has completely changed the filter that I see the world through. All I can say is that when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. I think Wayne Dyer has a quote along those lines but it’s so true that by looking for the good in things, it’s easier to see more good. And by noticing more good, more good things come my way. It’s like magic and it has a cumulative effect in that the longer I hold onto this practice, the more common it is for good things (daily miracles) to show up in my life.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience of keeping a gratitude journal. I loved hearing how you are are doing this and how it’s impacted you. So inspiring!

  2. Grace
    | Reply

    So true! I have gotten in and fallen out of the habit of keeping a daily gratitude practice multiple times. I definitely believe it’s efficacy for improving one’s sense of happiness and well being. I wrote a little post a while back on intentionally practicing gratitude if you want to check it out, you can here: http://www.heartfulhabits.com/practicing-gratitude-wellness-toolbox/

  3. Niamh
    | Reply

    This is literally what I NEED in my life. It’s so easy to get bogged down in life and forget the beautiful world around us.

    • Rikky D. T. Maas
      | Reply

      Yes, I have the same! I can spend days thinking about what needs to get done and forgetting to enjoy what’s there. Keeping a journal has helped me immensely with that. 🙂

  4. Dee
    | Reply

    I agree that keeping a Gratitude Journal totally helps with mindset and happiness. I personally find it difficult to find the time to put such things in writing (BUT I totally agree that it works perfectly for so many and recommend it to my clients) I like to give gratitude when in the moment. Meaning Positive Affirmations when in the moment work best for me. Whenever I am outdoors (my favourite place in the world) I tend to give thanks for all that is making me happy then and there.

    For example, I love being in nature. I’m not one who walks with headphones in. I prefer to listen to the sounds of nature, the ocean, the birds, the wind in the trees, and I always give thanks for all that I experience when immersed!

    Still love this Rikky, there are so many people out there who could use a gratitude journal to improve their lives!

    • Rikky D. T. Maas
      | Reply

      I actually think your practice of gratitude when you’re out in nature is almost like an advanced version of keeping a journal 🙂 I feel like a journal is a stepping stone towards practicing gratitude every moment of the day without having to be reminded by it at night. So I think this is wonderful, thank you for sharing!

  5. Kendra
    | Reply

    I’m yet another one that has tried to keep a journal and have not yet followed through. But I like your method and your questions. I think it is time that I put this practice to use – and actually follow through with it. Thank you for the little nudge…

  6. Loretta
    | Reply

    I love this. I wish I had more self discipline when it comes to writing in my journal. I always start with crazy motivation and within a few days I’m bored of what I’m writing and I feel like I don’t have anything to write about. I struggle pin pointing things that made my day ok, so I think by focusing on the positive things I’ll have something to look forward to writing. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Rikky D. T. Maas
      | Reply

      Oh I understand! Before I started this journal I started about a hundred others and never stuck to it. I love how this gives me a prompt everyday, and I try to keep it really short as well. The lesser the effort, the easier it is to keep writing. And you know, I still skip some days! But that’s okay 🙂

  7. Mat
    | Reply

    Would you share the whole list of questions you answer in your journal?

    • Rikky D. T. Maas
      | Reply

      Of course 🙂 my questions are
      – I am grateful for…
      – Daily affirmation:
      – Amazing things that happened today:
      – Things I did great today…

      Most of the research on gratitude and keeping a journal mostly entail the first question only. I copied Daily affirmation and Amazing things that happened from the 5 Minute Journal, and I added the last question for a bit of self-appreciation at the end of the day :). I think anything will do, as long as you include the first question.

      • Mat
        | Reply

        Awesome. Will try. Thanks!

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