How do we achieve happiness? I could list banal platitudes that humans have repeatedly vocalized. These remarks are so individualized and anecdotal that they minimize their impact. However the growth of positive psychology can redefine our perception of happiness by scientifically understanding the sources of pleasure and meaning in our lives. One concrete takeaway from the positive psychology field is that gratitude is good.

People that practice gratitude regularly experience significant physical and mental benefits.

They have stronger immune systems with lower blood pressure, higher levels of positive emotions, more joy, and optimism. They act more generously and compassionately, and feel less lonely and isolated. In terms of gratitude, the science is clear; by focusing on the positive, people can train their brains to think happier and more positively.

Gratitude is good, and it is so easy.

Think about three things for which you are grateful. Write them anywhere. The ideas do not need to be fully fleshed out. Events can be simplified to a single placeholder word. An amazing afternoon of swimming at the beach could be conveyed through the single word “ocean.” There is no time requirement for gratitude. 15 minutes of grateful reflection are just as significant as two. By taking the time, however short, to be grateful, baseline levels increase happiness. Writing isn’t even a requirement for living a grateful life; it is, however, a good way to create a habit and look back at previous happy moments.

Gratitude Is Good - Gratitude Journal

My future self thanks me when I write my grateful moments down in detail. Though I can experience gratitude with a single word such as “ocean,” years from now this word has little meaning. Longer journal entries provide context and nuance to my gratitude. Additionally, by attending to the moment that makes me grateful, I can better remember it.

I like using a small journal that can fit in my pocket to carry throughout the day. My notebook is both a place to ideate and journal. I do not prefer ruled paper as it confines me to write linearly. Brainstorming with unruled or graph paper is much easier. Journals such as Shinola and Moleskine are perfect for my needs. They fit in your pocket, have a good paper quality, and are durable. Carrying a journal throughout the day reminds me that gratitude is good.

Gratitude is a habit.

Habits can be difficult to continue after the initial excitement. Journaling can get tedious. I know I periodically stop journaling because I am tired, don’t think it will do much, or simply forget. However, when I compare my journaling self, to my non-journaling self, I recognize the difference in my happiness levels. Gratitude is good, and it works.

The best way to continue journaling is to carry a notebook around everywhere. When I actually carry the notebook in a pocket, I journal more frequently because it is just large enough to be regularly noticeable. By keeping a journal in my pocket, I also remember to put it by my bedside. If I haven’t journaled during the day, I just made it easy to be grateful right before bed. I typically try to journal before bed anyway because habits are best formed when repeated at a similar time each day. By journaling right before bed, I train myself to be grateful when I’m falling asleep.

What about mobile apps?

There are a few mobile apps  that provide some journaling functionality beyond simple text entry. The more advanced ones allow you to tag people, places, events, emotions, weather, and photos. I do not use these apps because they do not leverage technology enough to overwhelm the joy I have writing with simple pen and paper. Writing on paper is more organic.

I do believe that journaling on mobile platforms is coming, and I believe that data driven journaling will move people to journal mobily. 750words.com is a good example of an early stage data driven writing tool. It provides limited emotional feedback while keeping stats on your writing habits. Mobile is the next frontier for journaling because phones have notification features and are carried everywhere. Once data entry more closely aligns to writing on unruled paper, I see little reason a person would carry both their phone and a journal.

One of my goals on my Impossible List is to create a mobile app. Because I know gratitude is good and I love journaling, I hope to use data driven journaling as my first foray into the space. Stay tuned.

Summary

  • Gratitude is good. Science proves it increases your happiness.
  • Gratitude is easy. It can take as little as two minutes a day to cultivate gratitude.
  • Journals such as Shinola and Moleskine are great tools to start a journaling habit.
  • Journaling apps exist, but none that are better than pen and paper to me.

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