Gratitude Journaling and Mental Health

This article was written and published by RCA


November is National Gratitude Month, a time to celebrate and give thanks. At RCA, we are celebrating by highlighting videos of our staff and alumni, sharing downloadable quotes on gratitude, and giving away access to a free gratitude journal.

What does it mean to practice gratitude? Gratitude is defined as the state of being grateful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Practicing gratitude can be recognizing the positive things in your life and how they affect you. This can be as serious as acknowledging the work you have put into your recovery or as simple as being grateful for your favorite coffee shop. This rewarding practice can leave people feeling less stressed and more appreciative of the world around them.

A study in 2020 showed that regularly practicing gratitude can help ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. For those struggling with their mental health, this technique is a simple and effortless way to help alleviate some of your symptoms. One method that we highly recommend is gratitude journaling.
Gratitude journaling is a way to express and record things that you’re grateful for throughout your day. Most often, this is a daily exercise that can be done at any time of the day. For National Gratitude Month we created a 30-day online journal that you can download here. An entry in your journal can be anything that stands out to you as something you want to express your appreciation for. A couple of suggestions to help you get started are:

  • List five things you’re grateful for at the current moment.
  • Write about something or someone who made you smile that day.
  • Write about a scene for a TV show or movie that resonated with you.

The possibilities for expressing gratitude through journaling are endless. Doing this daily activity will help you gain a newfound love for the world around you and your loved ones. Outside of improving your mental health and overall well-being, studies have shown that gratitude can improve your life in a number of ways.

Promotes better physical health

There’s something truly healing about practicing gratitude. Not only will it help your outlook on life, but there is clinical research that suggests practicing gratitude can help your physical health as well. According to Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis, “Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life. It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, and facilitate more efficient sleep.” Taking a moment to journal your gratitude each day could result in stronger physical health, which will help your overall wellbeing.

In another study conducted by the universities of Utah and Kentucky, researchers observed that law students who experienced stress and characterized themselves as optimistic had more disease-fighting cells. Researchers speculate that the effects on a person’s physical health are tied to the positive emotions associated with practicing gratitude. It is monumental that something as straightforward as practicing gratitude can have such a profound impact.

Improves relationships

Another positive effect that gratitude can have is promoting healthier and happier relationships. Whether it’s a romantic relationship or a friendship, showing appreciation for that person in your gratitude journal can remind you why you care for that person. A study related to this tested the effects of gift giving amongst sorority sisters. For one week during the school year, older sorority sisters gave gifts to newer members. The study found that the newer members felt closer to the sorority sister who gave them a gift. The conclusion was that people may be more motivated to build a relationship with someone they feel grateful for.

Taking that study and applying it to journaling, when you write positive things about someone, you may be more willing to maintain and build that relationship. This practice can help couples to continue to work at building their relationship and help friendships to last longer.

Boosts optimism

In a study to test the impact of positive psychology, people were given an assignment of writing and personally delivering a letter of gratitude to someone who they felt needed to be thanked and recognized for an act of kindness. The effects were immediate with the participants exhibiting a huge increase in happiness. The study also noted that the benefits from this increase in happiness lasted for about a month. The results showed even practicing gratitude just once made a big difference in their feelings of joy and optimism.

There are many benefits to practicing gratitude. It is easy to incorporate into your life, eventually becoming part of your daily routine and will help to make your life more positive and joyful.

Celebrate National Gratitude Month with us by taking this opportunity to give thanks for the people and things around you.

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