The Science of Gratitude Journals
Keeping a gratitude journal is a scientifically validated method for increasing your happiness. A gratitude journal is diary where, periodically, one writes down one or more things for which they are grateful for. In numerous empirical experiments, various scientists have validated the process of keeping a gratitude journal as a beneficiary practice. Originally used as a treatment for depression, studies have shown that this simple practice is effective in improving mood, health, and achieving ones goals.
The primary bulk of scientific research on gratitude journals was performed by Dr. Robert Emmonds, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis and author and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology . In 2003, Emmonds along with McCullough, performed empirical control-based studies, comparing groups of people who used gratitude journals on weekly and daily bases to groups who focused on negative aspects of life . Over a two-month period, the weekly practitioners were seen to reap benefits such as increased mood, optimism, increased frequency of exercise and a decrease in physical ailments. In addition, these participants shown more likelihood to progress towards personal goals (academic, interpersonal, and health-based). The daily practitioners achieved more positive effects than the weekly practitioners. These participants showed higher levels of enthusiasm, determination, alertness, and energy – along with an increased frequency of reporting that they have helped or supported another person.
Further research has shown that the practice of keeping a divorce diary can improve coping with disease. Emmonds had reproduced a previous study in which people suffering from various neuromuscular diseases showed more optimism and satisfaction with their lives after using a daily gratitude journal. These participants also reported improved sleep duration and quality. In a separate study, University of Connecticut researchers studied groups of people that had experienced heart attacks. They found that those who saw a positive side of their heart attack experience, found they had a renewed vigor and appreciation for life and were less exposed to the risk of a consequent heart attack .
Follow-up research has shown just how potent the benefits of keeping a gratitude list can be. Dr. Martin Seligman , Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, found that when compared to five other randomly selected modalities of therapeutic intervention, those who kept a gratitude journal showed the highest scores of happiness in the experiment's rating system. These scores increased continuously throughout the duration of the experiment, week after week. While only asked to keep up the journal for a week, many participants personally decided to keep up the practice for long after the study completed .
While it may occur as common sense to many of us that maintaining a positive and grateful attitude is a more pleasant way to experience life, research confirms our intuition. Keeping track of what one is grateful has been shown by research as a way to increase happiness, improve one's quality of sleep, resilience against disease, ability to achieve goals, and capacity to help others. Whatever your goal is to break a cycle of depression or improve your quality of life, the simple practice of keeping a gratitude journal is an effective way to get there.
 Emmons, RA & McCullough, ME (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84 , 377-389.
 Campbell, Bruce. "Counting Your Blessings: How Gratitude Improves Your Health". CFIDS and Fibromyalgia Self-help.
 Seligman, MEP, Steen, TA, Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.