Do you greet the day with a grin or a groan? It’s easy to wake up on the wrong side of bed when we live life at such a hectic pace with to-do lists out the door. There’s so much to do (and so very little we actually want to!) All it takes is less than 5 minutes a day to transform negative emotions to a positive state, which doesn’t just help you feel good…a positive attitude strengthens your immune system, boosts overall wellness, and improves eating and exercise habits. Writing down just five things you are grateful for in a gratitude journal trains your brain to focus on the positive, and trains your body to focus on healing!
The Power of Positive Thought
When you think negatively you quite literally pin your brain into a corner. Research has shown that your brain reacts to negative thoughts and emotions by narrowing down your options. When you wake up berating yourself for going on a cookie binge the night before or for letting your exercise routine slip, your brain focuses on feelings of anger, shame, and stress that spin a cycle of negative emotions and behaviors. When you wake feeling positive, your brain expands the possiblities, your will power strengthens, your motivation increases, and you build better skills and resources to live a healthy, happy life.
Barbara Fredrickson, an expert on the benefits of positive thought, divided people into five groups, each exposed to a different film clip. Group 1 watched clips that triggered positive emotions. Group 2 was stimulated by images of contentment. Group 3 watched neutral clips designed to produce no emotion. Group 4 saw photos that stimulated feelings of fear, and group 5 images that produced feelings of anger.
After viewing the slides, participants were asked to envision themselves in a similar scenario to the one they had just viewed. Those exposed to clips of happiness and contentment wrote significantly more options than those exposed to negative and neutral emotions.
How a Gratitude Journal Heals
A study published in the Journal of Research in Personality showed just how positive writing can generate health benefits. Ninety undergraduate students were divided into two groups. Over the course of three days, group 1 wrote about a positive experience, while group 2 wrote on a control topic. Remarkably, after two to three months, subjects who wrote about a positive event reported better moods, fewer visits to the doctor, and fewer illnesses.
Keeping a Gratitude Journal
Keeping a gratitude journal is simple. Keep a notebook by your bed—you can even save your gratitude journal as a list on your smartphone! Wake up, rub the sleep out of your eyes, and jot down five things you are grateful for. It doesn’t have to be world rocking. You can be grateful for the green smoothie you’re going to have for lunch, the wonderful dinner with friends the evening before, the fact that you have a roof over your head or income coming in…get creative! You’ll soon find you have quite a bit to be thankful for and will start seeing (and feeling) gratitude everywhere.