As featured in


Jan 092014

Happy New Year! Want to make sure it’s a good year? Keep a gratitude journal.

OK, OK. Keeping a gratitude journal is old news. It seems like everyone, from your Aunt Tilley to Oprah Winfrey, has done it. But some people actually keep it up, year after year. Oprah has kept her gratitude journal, with only a few lapses, since 1996. But does it really work?

Oprah says it does. Now there’s scientific proof that people who keep track of grateful feelings are healthier, happier and more receptive to new opportunities that can bring them even more blessings.

Can you get rich from counting your blessings? Sorry, no guarantees. But with gratitude you probably stand a better chance of cashing in than the people who just gripe.

The science of gratitude

Dr. Robert A. Emmons, a professor at University of California at Davis, who specializes in the field of positive psychology, is said to be the world’s leading expert on gratitude. His book, Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity, is based on his controlled experiments with two groups: people who kept gratitude journals and people who kept “whining and complaining” journals.

Those who cultivated an attitude of gratitude ended up healthier, with lower blood pressure, improved immune systems, better sleep habits and stronger relationships. Emmons says his grateful study subjects achieved “emotional prosperity,” which he defined as being satisfied, content and flourishing in a good life. The subjects also enjoyed increased energy, inspiration and motivation.

Coincidentally, Emmons found that grateful people generally earn about 7% more than people who don’t regularly track their feelings of gratitude.

The rules of gratitude

Each evening, Oprah compiles a list of five things that have occurred to her during the day for which she is grateful. She says mentally checking them off during the day (but waiting to write them down) keeps her open to even more gratitude-inspiring events.

Some people make their lists longer, perhaps 10 or more. Others write down each event as it occurs during the day. But most people strive to journal on a daily basis.

Emmons relaxes the “rules” a bit, just to avoid what he calls “gratitude burnout.” Journaling about gratitude is something that can be done at one’s convenience just a few times a week. Or more. The goal is to develop a positive habit, not to force-feed a new behavior. Journaling just a few times a week, he says, still succeeds in boosting feelings of well-being.

San Diego blogger Heather Reese of It’s a Lovely Life tallies her feelings of gratitude in a different way. She recommends writing on a scrap of paper the date and the thing for which you’re grateful and then dropping it into a jar. Start doing this at the beginning of the year and by the next New Year’s Eve, you’ll have a jar full of blessings to read while remembering highlights of the past year. It’s an uplifting way to begin another new year.

Houston blogger Carissa Fox of Brown Eyed Fox gets her whole family involved in being grateful, but only on the November days leading up to Thanksgiving. She hangs up her “thankfuls board” – a big picture frame with a wire-mesh backing – and sets out paper, colored pencils and wooden clothespins. Everyone writes and/or illustrates something they’re grateful for and pins the paper to the wire. This ongoing gratitude attitude makes their Thanksgiving more meaningful.

Overcoming scarcity mentality

Financial writers, too, have something to say about tracking gratitude. Apparently it’s a good way to shake off a scarcity mentality and replace it with an abundance mentality.

Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar says that a scarcity mentality comes from focusing on what others have and you don’t. And Julie Boyer of Manage Your Wealth says noticing the abundance around you – in nature, in relationships, etc. – and avoiding scarcity thoughts can enrich your life.

“Practice daily gratitude,” Boyer says. “With an attitude of gratitude, you’ll find that you have more than enough time to do what’s more important and more than enough money to buy everything you need.”

There’s an app for that

Would you rather express your gratitude on the go, instead of journaling with pen and paper? There are dozens of smartphone apps for gratitude journals. Most are free. Others cost no more than 99 cents or $1.99. Check out free apps like Gratitude 365, Gratitude Diary and Gratitude Tree. You’ll be grateful you did.

Susan Hauser

Susan Hauser is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon, with specialties in travel, food, business and profile writing. For 17 years she was a regular contributor to the Leisure & Arts Page of The Wall Street Journal, and in honor of her many national articles about her home town, she was the recipient of Travel Portland's President's Award. Her recent articles have appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, Parade and The Oregonian. She is the publisher of Portland Living on the Cheap.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.