Imagine you’re a pirate and you’ve just found a treasure. You wipe the sand off the treasure chest and break the lock. When you open it, a feeling of pure contentment and peace overwhelms you. You have become perfectly happy. Happiness is a treasure all human beings seek. It is the one objective all people have in common. The desire to be happy is universal. Scientists and psychologists have been investigating how one can become happier for many years now. Positive psychology is a study that pertains to the science of happiness that focuses on intentional activities that increase or sustain our happiness, and how to achieve greater levels of happiness and less feelings of dissatisfaction and loneliness. Sonja Lyubomirsky a Russian professor of psychology at the University of California, says, “Positive Psychology is a subset within the broader field we call the Science of Happiness, which extends to the natural as well as social sciences. For example, Positive Psychology is largely focused on the study of positive emotions” (“How of Happiness” par. 9). They have come up with something rather interesting that may benefit, not just those in need of major psychological pick me ups, in need of serious interventions and drugs, but the average Joe as well. Positive interventions are habits that people can implement during their daily routine that will help their well-being and happiness levels. Gratitude journaling is one of the many positive interventions that scientists and psychologists have come up with to help improve the emotional well-being (or happiness) of people over-all. A gratitude journal is a journal where one writes down three to five things one is currently grateful for. It does not matter what it is, something simple like sunshine, trees, or the color red or something big, say your life, your health or family. The frequency of entries in this “gratitude journal” varies from each set of directions, from once a week to once daily, though all have come to the same conclusion; happiness can be increased by writing a gratitude journal. People can elevate their happiness levels and sustain a greater sense of well-being when they implement the positive psychology intervention known as keeping a gratitude journal.
Gratitude journaling can lead to a greater sense of life’s many good qualities. Writing a gratitude journal increases happiness by focusing on positive emotions and making it easier to focus on the positive things throughout daily life. Through the easy daily process of writing these positive, grateful thoughts, which are more than appreciation, a sense of awe and wonder begin to surround a person, for the many things that they already have in life. They begin to focus on the positive space, so to speak, instead of the negative, empty space. They focus on all of the amazing things they have already instead of what else they want or need. Admit it, all humans are guilty of this; focusing on the absence of one belonging or another, the desire for bicycle or a car instead of focusing on the great things they do have, family, working arms and legs, being able to breathe on their own. Dr. Barton Goldsmith, an award-winning psycho-therapist, describes the habit in his article, “How the Habit of Gratitude Leads to Happiness,” as a tool that has helped many people increase happiness and even heal depression. He has said that it “has the power to change the way you feel by putting pen to paper and reinforcing your own positive feelings” (par. 8). There are so many things that we human beings take for granted, and a gratitude journal is a way to shed light on this fact and bring us to appreciate it all more than we do. This works through reinforcing positive emotions and increasing a sense of contentment and the belief that one’s life is good.
Adopting the simple practice, or positive intervention, of writing a gratitude journal can lead people to be happier. There is not a person in the world who, deep down, does not desire to be happy. It is every man, woman and child’s main goal in life. Happiness is the unachievable destination. Sonja Lyubomirsky, defines happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile” (“Is it Possible to Become Lastingly Happier?” par. 2). That’s rather intense. Who in their right mind would not want to achieve that in one’s life? Appreciating life seems like the obvious way to reach some inner peace, though many people find it difficult to accept that the secret to life’s unachievable goal could be this much of a walk in the park. It is. Though perfect happiness is something most can’t attain even through implementing all the crazy things in the world that claim to make a person happy, this is one thing that definitely increases happiness by a high margin. “The Relationship Between Happiness and Gratitude” cites studies that have found people who practice gratitude consistently are likely to be more hopeful, happy and experience positive emotions more frequently than those who do not practice this positive psychology intervention (Suval par. 7). The article, “Why Gratitude is Good” by Robert Emmons, PhD, also cites some of these studies, claiming that people feel more alive, awake and gain more sense of joy and pleasure when they practice the “art of gratitude” (par. 6). Who among us doesn’t want to feel more awake and alive? Emmons also cites studies that have found people who practice gratitude have better health, lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system, less aches and pains and they sleep longer and feel more refreshed when they wake up (par. 6). There is no wondering now, why people who write gratitude journals consistently feel happier. If simply feeling more gratitude and expressing it can help one’s immune system and health, no wonder people who do this feel happier. The most insane thing about this is that more people don’t partake in this wonderful health hack. It is a wonder that any of this could be achievable through simple means.
Happiness definitely can be increased by feeling grateful and expressing that gratitude. Keeping the gratitude bottled up inside does nothing for anyone. Expressing those feelings down on paper makes a person really look into themselves and realize that there is so much to be grateful for in this world. The more someone thinks about what they have already in this life, the more they realize that they really are very blessed. It is interesting to look at your life and make a list of all the things that you are truly grateful for. The more you express your gratitude, the more things you will find that you are grateful for. This practice of journaling gratitude increases happiness by slowly making it easier to find things to be happy about. It doesn’t increase material wealth or widen social circles, this is not about gaining anything at all, but rather, about appreciating and being in a state of wonderment for the things that you have. Gratitude is, once again, more than just being appreciative. Gratitude is a larger than life feeling, of being so grateful that you are pretty much incapable of taking whatever it is you are grateful for, for granted. It’s the realization of your blessings and by that realization, you can come to a sense that what you have is finally enough, as it should have all along.
Fig. 1 shows a woman feeling happy through her experience with gratitude journaling (Emmons).
Some people may believe that positive psychology could be the opposite of helpful. In an article by Jeremy McCarthy, he claims that positive psychology hasn’t been researched to its fullest and has been upsold by the media (“5 Big Problems with Positive Thinking” par. 3). There are truths to this claim that the media latches on to the positive thinking research and running with it without looking into the background. In that same article, Jeremey McCarthy points out that all of our emotions serve a purpose (“5 Big Problems with Positive Thinking” par. 5). This is true, fear provides us with adrenaline which can help us in a tough situation. All emotions are useful and helpful. Emotions like fear, anxiety and sadness, aren’t the ones people really want to focus on, though, it is important to understand them. This same man thinks that making the unwell think that positive psychology interventions are the secret to happiness could make them worse (“5 Big Problems with Positive Thinking” par. 2). Again, Mr. McCarthy has a point. People who have mental instabilities and illnesses may not be the best to use these tactics unless told to do so by their psycho-therapists.
While the opposing side makes some great points, the benefits of these positive psychology interventions far outweigh the possible problems it could cause. Happiness is a complex organism and to claim that you can achieve it with one change to your life is rather preposterous. “There is enough evidence accumulating to suggest that positive emotions, using strengths, expressing gratitude and connecting with others are all generally good for us” (McCarthy, “5 Big Problems with Positive Thinkin” par. 9). Who could think thinking positive is an all-together bad thing for happiness? Everyone can benefit from expressing gratitude, however they choose to do it. “Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-being, Wisdom, and Wonder,” author, Arianna Huffington, says, quite elegantly, that “Gratitude works its magic by serving as an antidote to negative emotions. It’s like white blood cells for the soul, protecting us from cynicism, entitlement, anger, and resignation” (par. 14). People need to have protection from these feelings, otherwise they can easily consume them and cause feelings of dissatisfaction and failure.
The research on positive psychology interventions, including gratitude journaling, is new, but has been ongoing for about twenty years. This seems enough time to fully investigate whether or not it is helpful. “Research suggests that lasting happiness is attainable, if you are prepared to do the work” (Lyubomirsky, “Is it Possible to Become Lastingly Happier?” par. 3). There are more sources supporting the link positive psychology intervention has to happiness than there are to it having an ill effect on the overall happiness of human lives. Why do you think that is? Research tells us that positive psychology interventions, like gratitude journaling, are undeniably something that can make us happier people. We should all pick up this writing habit and actively search for things to be grateful for each day.
Greater happiness levels and a better sense of well-being, can be attained when people use the positive psychology intervention known as keeping a gratitude journal. Having an “attitude of gratitude” immeasurably increases one’s ability to think clearly and to see the world as a better place. When you can see all the good in the world your happiness is elevated. Writing a gratitude journal helps us to realize what great things are in the world and how we have been taking things for granted. It causes in us the desire not to do that any longer and promotes a sense of watchfulness; we become better at finding things to be grateful for and happy about. Expressing gratitude benefits us emotionally and makes us kinder, happier people. Gratitude journaling can increase happiness, well-being and contentment. When consistently using the gratitude journal positive psychology intervention, people feel more alive, awake and ambitious. Try it for a month. Journal your gratitude and see what becomes of you.