The science of gratitude journals
Gratitude journalling is one of the best ways to start your braincare routine. This is why.
We’re always looking for simple ways to bring more braincare into people’s lives. And among the simplest that we’ve found is gratitude journalling. In this article, we’ll look at the science and benefits of gratitude and journalling for mental health and physical health, along with how to start gratitude journalling.
What is journalling?
Any act of recording something habitually, on a daily basis, is journalling. The most common form (at least in the media), is keeping a diary—a small book that’s intensely private, containing all of your deepest thoughts, feelings, hopes, and fears. But that image can put people off journalling as a whole. After all, what if my thoughts aren’t that interesting? What if I have nothing to say?
Diaries are just one form of journal, though. Other types include:
These are just examples—there are essentially any number of forms that journalling can take.
How to journal for beginners
As with many things, the hardest part of journalling is getting started. If you’re new to the idea and don’t know how to journal, it can feel daunting—having to set aside time every single day. But after a while, it will begin to feel normal, and you’ll start to look forward to it. Trust us.
There are two things to keep in mind.
Make sure your journal is aesthetically pleasing. This might sound trivial, but it will make you more excited to return to it each day.
As you want to turn this into a habit, try doing it at the same time as something you already do every day. For example, every time you brush your teeth in the evening, you set aside five minutes for your journal. This technique is called habit stacking.
These two principles were fundamental to the design of the Braincare Journal. We needed to make sure that both were represented—that it was beautiful, and also that it lent itself to tracking, and implementing, new habits.
Benefits of journaling for mental health
Multiple studies have demonstrated that reflective journalling can be good for your emotional well-being, and help develop your emotional intelligence. Similarly, other studies have shown the effects of visual journalling for anxiety treatment, as well as a reduction in parental stress and negative thoughts as a result of daily gratitude journalling.
Overall, the mental health benefits of journalling include:
Benefiting emotional well-being
Reducing negative thoughts
Reducing the risk of anxiety and depression
Increasing life satisfaction
Regulating emotional responses
Improving emotional intelligence
Improving quality of sleep
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What does gratitude mean, and what are the benefits?
Gratitude as a self-care phenomenon has been growing in popularity in recent years. But when included in the same sentence as mindfulness, meditation, and the like, gratitude can seem opaque. How do you go about practising it?
But there’s no reason for it to be confusing. Gratitude is, well, being grateful. Think about something you’re grateful for. It could be something big—like a roof over your head, a supportive family, a fulfilling career—or something small. That lunch tasted better than you were expecting. And that’s gratitude.
Of all the types of journalling, gratitude is the most widely studied for mental well-being. Not surprising really, as it is connected to both mental and physical well-being, with links to processes within the brain that have long-term impacts on our overall health.
How does gratitude affect your brain?
Practising gratitude every day changes the way you think, literally. According to the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center of UCLA, gratitude has the ability to increase neuroplasticity, changing the neural structures in your brain. This refers to your brain's malleability—its ability to adapt and change.
Gratitude can also act as a catalyst for brain reactions that produce certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine. Our ability to produce and regulate levels of these chemicals is vital in our emotional well-being.
The benefits of gratitude for mental health
Recently, there’s been more and more research done into the effects of gratitude on mental health and well-being. Studies have found that practising gratitude regularly is linked to all sorts of benefits, including:
Improved emotional functioning
Lower rates of depression
Improved interpersonal relationships
The benefits of gratitude for physical health
The effects of gratitude on physical health have not been studied as much as the effects on mental health. However, there is some indication that practising gratitude can have a positive affect on:
Risk of cardiovascular disease
All in all, that’s quite a result for something that takes a few minutes a day.
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How to practice gratitude with a gratitude journal
In order to experience the benefits of journalling, you’ll need to be practising gratitude journalling regularly. It’s that change over time that gives your body the chance to adapt, so that you’ll feel the difference. While there are many different ways that you can try to turn gratitude into a daily habit, the simplest way is with a gratitude journal.
Gratitude journalling is a great way for beginners to both journalling and gratitude to get started. With a dedicated gratitude journal, like the Braincare Journal, it’s simple to keep track of what you’re grateful for, every day. Creating a dedicated space for your gratitude also makes it more likely that you’ll develop a habit, reaping the rewards in the long run, rather than just on the day.
Tracking habits in a mental health diary
When it comes to braincare, gratitude journalling isn’t the only show in town. There are so many other habits—from regular exercise, to meditation, to nutrition—that you can introduce to your everyday life for positive effect. That’s why we included a habit tracker in the Braincare Journal. For all of these things, consistency is the key. Meditating once, or filling in one page of a gratitude journal, isn’t going to make a difference—the effect comes from small changes over the long term. Compounding interest for your brain.
We spoke to the author of Atomic Habits and all-round habit-stacking guru, James Clear, on the Braincare podcast. Check out our conversation here.
The science of gratitude journalling is still young, but the research is exciting. It’s an essential part of braincare, and one of the most impactful things you can do.
If you’d like to learn how to start journalling and take care of your brain, our Braincare Journal is the simplest place to begin—a gratitude journal, mental health diary, and habit tracker, all in one.