Discover how to adopt Oprah Winfrey's happiest habit today!

‘Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.’ Marcel Proust (French novelist)

Oprah Winfrey has been keeping a gratitude journal for almost twenty years and says she begins every day by writing down five things she is grateful for. From a fun phone call with a friend to fresh cut flowers - she says acknowledging the little things is what keeps her focusing on all the ‘goodness in her life’. In fact, she has said keeping this journal is the single most important thing she's ever done. 

Why start a gratitude journal?
Feeling low? Then dive into the practice of keeping a gratitude journal. Why? Because it does more than just make you feel good. The idea of a gratitude journal was popularised back in the 1990s through the work of Sarah Ban Breathnach, in her book Simple Abundance, along with Oprah Winfrey’s passion for the idea.

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According to researcher Robert Emmons, author of the book, Thanks! How the new science of gratitude can make you happier, regular practice of gratitude can have a tremendous impact on your health, and your ability to build relationships and make progress towards personal and professional goals. You even sleep more peacefully.

Write down things you are thankful for
One way to get into the practice of writing down the things you appreciate and are grateful for is to start a gratitude journal or gratitude pages in your journal or notebook. It’s preferable to get a new notebook for this as it stops your entries getting lost amongst all the other things on the page. Being able to see your gratitude list clearly in front of you helps to boost your mood and sense of well- being. Finding and bringing your awareness to the things you are grateful for also helps to change and shift your perspective.

These benefits were further confirmed by a study (Trespicio, 2008) in which one group kept a weekly journal noting up to five things they were grateful about, a second group recorded challenges and hassles and a third wrote about events that affected them. After nine weeks, the first group felt better about their lives and more optimistic about the future than the others; and more than that, they showed fewer physical symptoms and spent more time exercising.

So imagine you’ve got to the end of a stressful day. There have been a few bumps along the way and all you can think about is throwing yourself into bed. Instead, grab your journal or notebook and lay it out at the side of the bed or next to where you are sitting. Close your eyes and imagine yourself walking back through your day from the moment your eyes popped open to now.

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Look at things from a different perspective
Imagine walking through your day with an instrument that resembles a metal detector. What’s different about this detector is that it’s programmed to pick up the good stuff, no matter how tiny or seemingly insignificant from your day. It will scan and pull to your attention even the most minute details from your day, pulling them into full view so you can appreciate and be grateful for them. You will notice the abundance in your day rather than merely the defects. Tune in to how and when your mood shifts, and how, by engaging with your gratitude, you’ve gained a new and more flourishing perspective on your day.

At the start or end of your day, make a list of five things from the day that you are grateful for. It could be a success at work, getting a hug from your child or something as small as stopping to admire a cluster of flowers in someone’s garden. Writing your gratitudes on a regular basis is essential. Writing them down means you are more likely to remember the good stuff. Training yourself in this way will also have you on the constant lookout for the good stuff, no matter how minor it may seem.

Monotony and boredom are often the culprits that cause you to break the pattern of your daily gratitude practice. This is why finding different ways to write your gratitudes can be a resourceful way of not getting bored with embedding this practice.

Five ways to be more grateful

  1. Write five people from your life a thank you card. Write one card a day, thanking the person for something they did for you or appreciating a quality or characteristic they have. On the sixth day, write a thank you card to yourself.
  2. For one day, set your alarm on your mobile phone to go off on the hour, every hour. Stop whatever you are doing and write down something or someone you are grateful for.
  3. Over a period of one week, leave anonymous thank you cards with people you come into contact with in formal and informal settings. Write the cards beforehand, then add that personal touch and leave them discreetly without being discovered.
  4. When you are finding yourself irritated or annoyed with someone, try looking for what Jack Kornfield calls their ‘inner nobility’ (Trespicio, 2008). If you step back for a moment, what goodness can you see through their actions and intentions? Relate to the individual from this place.
  5. We often focus our gratitude on others. Imagine a dear friend writing you a gratitude letter. In it they specifically outline all the things about you they are grateful for. Write the letter from their perspective and then read it aloud to yourself.

Have you ever kept a diary or a journal? Join our conversation below…