You know those moments when nothing in your life is going particularly wrong, yet you still find yourself in a crummy mood? A couple months ago, this was me. Maybe it was because I was in the midst of a busy spell at work. Maybe it was because my friends kept canceling our dinner plans, or because I was feeling more bloated than usual. Whatever the reason, I sensed myself slipping into an old pattern—a pattern of negative thinking.
I’ve never been one of those explosively happy people. You know the kind: They greet the day with a sun salutation and smile at every stranger they cross. That said, I’m generally in a pretty uplifted mood (you can be snarky and happy at the same time!); but personally I’m more of an eye roller than a starry-eyed positive thinker.
Regrettably, however, when I do get sad, I don’t have the necessary tools to reverse it. I tend to stew in the negativity, fix my face into a permanent frown, and blame the people closest to me for my mood, instead of simply choosing to change it. It’s a bad habit, I know. I’ve tried a few out-of-the-box techniques for becoming more positive: New Agey meditation, float therapy. But I have yet to find something that really feels like me.
But during this recent blue period, I discovered a mood-boosting method called gratitude journaling. And I feel like I’ve finally found my get-happy match.
What on earth is gratitude journaling? And how does it make you a happier person? To find out, keep scrolling!
I didn’t learn about gratitude journaling from a book, a class, or even the internet. I actually sort of discovered it on my own. I believe it may have been inspired by acquiring a brand-new notebook—a handmade journal I picked up from Portland-based home goods emporium Pendleton Woolen Mills. There’s a sense of hope that comes with a fresh notebook, a sense of possibility. When I opened to the crisp, blank flyleaf, I knew I wanted to fill this new book not with mindless scribbles and to-do lists, but with something special.
Historically, I’ve never been much of a journaler. I’ve just never been able to stick with it. So many intelligent, fulfilled people are journalers—David Sedaris, Joan Didion—and I wish I could make a habit of it, too. But I just can’t get down with the idea of spending hours writing something that the world will never see. I think the longest I ever stuck with daily journaling was a weeklong stint in fifth grade when I had such a heart-wrenching crush on a boy that I simply had to get out all my feelings on paper. But I still secretly wished someone would find it and read it. I suppose I’m just bad at keeping my own secrets.
Anyway, at a point during this somber stint, I decided that my negativity was a waste of time. Why focus on the melancholy minutia of my life when overall, I objectively had it pretty good? So, here's what I did: At the end of one gloomy workday, I opened up to the first page of my new Pendleton booklet. There, I decided to write down a bulleted list of every positive thing that happened to me that day. These didn’t have to be life-changing events; they didn’t have to be crafted into beautiful prose. All I needed to do was create a list of small things that might fall into the pros column of my life that day. Unlike classic journaling, it wouldn’t be a stream-of-consciousness reflection on the day’s events. It’d be simpler than that, purely focused on the positive.
On April 25, I recorded my first entry. I wrote that I'd gotten approved for a fancy new credit card I really wanted, that I'd received an invitation to a birthday party from someone I thought was too cool to be my friend, and that I discovered a delicious new pasta recipe for dinner. These events were commonplace, to be sure, but recording them helped me temporarily forget the day’s grievances. Looking at my happy little list made me feel like my life was certainly filled with more good than bad. And it took it a mere two minutes to do.
I later learned from writer and educator Dr. Whitney Allgood that this serendipitous new habit of mine actually comes expert-recommended. Allgood is the director of teen programs at Step Up, a nonprofit that mentors young girls. She says that "gratitude journaling," as it's called, is an excellent place to start for journaling novices. According to Allgood, “writing down three things each night before you go to bed that you are grateful for is a great way to end the day on a positive note and to begin training your eye and your brain to notice the good stuff in life and give less energy to the bad.” She says she personally has done this on and off for years and finds it a wonderful daily practice for everyday mood-boosting.
Of course, there are times when life presents you with situations trickier than a busy patch at work or a little extra bloating. In these circumstances, Allgood says you can modify your gratitude journaling practice. “During those times, I like to write down the problems I am experiencing as questions,” Allgood explains. “How can I move forward with forgiving a person I think has wronged me if I never get an apology? Should I buy a new car or repair this one? Then I go to sleep and see what my unconscious will turn up for me. I find this highly effective.”
You’ll notice that this form of journaling is equally easy and time-efficient. “You don’t need to journal for an hour each day,” Allgood says. That’s one of the biggest myths about journaling. The writing doesn’t need to be eloquent or “interesting” either. After all, it's just for you.
So in the future, if you find yourself in a grumpy mood, make like yours truly and set aside two minutes of your time. Out of all the "get-happy" practices I've tried, this simple, positivity-focused journaling technique has been the most successful at making me feel, well, legitimately happier. I hope it does the same for you.
Shop gratitude journals below!
I find that choosing a journal you love aesthetically keeps you motivated to stick with it. How fun is this encouraging "killing it" booklet?
LA-based tchotchke shop Poketo carries the cutest notebooks. This three-pack is both motivating and budget-friendly.
This "great things" notepad from Anthropologie has gratitude journal written all over it.
Byrdie Associate Editor Victoria Hoff loves this quirky Swedish line of notebooks.
Want to learn more easy, mood-boosting tricks? Read about the weird meditation technique that made me happier.