I Wrote in a Gratitude Journal for 45 Days To Lower My Stress and Improve My Sleep—Here’s What Happened

Photo: Getty Images / RichLegg
At the end of 2022, I didn't feel great about my mental or physical health. I wasn't getting much sleep (averaging between five and six hours per night), my stress and anxiety levels were at an all-time high, and negative self-talk and thoughts clouded my brain before I could even reach the doors of my local gym. Like so many others do at the beginning of the new year, I sat down with a pen in one hand and a notebook in the other, ready to record my goals and intentions for the next 12 months. I wrote down in a bulleted list:
  • Have less anxiety about going to the gym
  • Get more sleep
  • Wake up earlier
  • Practice positive thinking

When I learned that practicing gratitude could potentially improve my mental health and lower stress, I added to my aforementioned list "writing in my gratitude journal every day for 45 days." I was curious how the potential benefits of gratitude journaling might impact my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Here's how it went.

The potential benefits of gratitude journaling

At a baseline, practicing gratitude stands to help temper the negative thinking that can often fuel stress and anxiety, says Chelsea Sarai, PsyD, a clinical psychologist based in Los Angeles.

"A daily gratitude practice can help alleviate stress and calm negative emotions," adds Jessica Stern, PhD, psychologist and researcher at the University of Virginia. "One way this works is by shifting our attention. Rather than ruminating about something we regret saying, rehearsing a conversation in our head, focusing on what we wish we could have, or worrying about work the next day, gratitude focuses the mind on the glimmers," or good thoughts that can reorient us to positive feelings of connection, abundance, and good fortune, she says.

Research also supports the notion that expressing gratitude in daily life is associated with decreasing stress, along with a number of other physical, mental, and emotional benefits, like reducing the risk of high blood pressure, lowering symptoms of depression, and improving sleep.

And given the benefits of journaling in general of which I was already aware, I was feeling extra hopeful about the prospect of combining that with the concept of gratitude.

How I used my gratitude journal

I made a point to do my gratitude journaling in the morning, before work and at night before bed. Soon, it became second nature to set time aside for gratitude journaling in my Papier gratitude journal, which is pre-loaded with positive affirmations and guided prompts and activities.

The journal served two prompts: one for the morning and one for the nighttime. The morning prompt asked me to write down three things I look forward to. The usuals that made the list each morning included grabbing dinner, heading to the gym, spending quality time with my partner, or catching up on a Netflix show. The nighttime prompt asked what three things I'm grateful for. Around 9 or 10 p.m., I'd sit down on my couch to focus on the little things that made my day great. Here are some entries on random days during January:

Today, I am grateful for:

  • 1/10: That we had pasta in the fridge, pushing myself to sprint at the gym, finishing my Lunar New Year food article
  • 1/14: Supporting a local business, driving around Dallas, my sisters for giving me feedback on clothes I wanted to buy
  • 1/16: Botanical garden was free, discovering a new coffee shop, my partner for driving me to get custard

Did I feel the benefits of gratitude journaling after 45 days?

While I didn't notice any major differences after the first week, over the course of the 45 days, I did enjoy major improvements to my physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

For example, since I began my gratitude journaling habit, I've noticed fewer instances of stress and anxiety, especially while I was at the gym. Normally, I'm overwhelmed by the after-work crowd or stressed about waiting for a machine, but my journaling helped me envision my thoughts through a positive lens. This is called reframing.

Reframing thoughts works by "tricking your brain and giving it a signal to attract something in the future state," says Meha Agrawal, founder and CEO of Silk and Sonder, a journaling subscription company. So instead of thinking, Ugh, the gym is so packed, and I won't be able to get in an effective workout, I can now reframe. That new thought might be, Yes, the gym is packed, but I can still ask to work in with people to get in an effective workout.

Ending my night with gratitude journaling has instead helped me pass out within a few minutes and with a clear mind.

Additionally, I've been able to adopt a more positive outlook when unfortunate things happen, like missing a train, or forgetting my umbrella at home during a rainy day. I'm also falling asleep faster and sleeping better in general. Before adopting a gratitude journaling practice, I would find myself up late at night, either spiraling in thought or scrolling on TikTok. Ending my night with gratitude journaling has instead helped me pass out within a few minutes and with a clear mind.

Lastly, gratitude journaling has helped me feel more connected to myself and others. By writing what I'm grateful for, I recognize all of the people who contribute to my life in meaningful ways, whether it's my partner cooking up some grilled veggies and protein for us after work or appreciating my po po's [grandma in Cantonese] words of wisdom during our weekly phone calls. By focusing on what I'm thankful for, Dr. Sarai says I'm creating a sense of contentment and fulfillment that transcends material possessions and external circumstances.

While I originally set out to test gratitude journaling for a month, I see gratitude journaling as a daily practice to continue for the long run. It's brought so much positivity to my life and only takes me a few minutes of day to do. I'm… grateful for it.

Gratitude journals to get you started

papier gratitude journal
Papier, Marble Sea Gratitude Journal — $35.00

Take a mindful moment with Papier’s Marble Sea Gratitude Journal. It’s filled with morning and evening prompts, all aimed at inspiring you to engage in positive and forward-looking thinking. Filled with five month’s worth of entries, fill out and soak in all of your reflections, feelings, lessons, and special moments each day.

silk and sonder journals
Silk and Sonder, Annual Subscription — $25.00

For someone who needs more structure, Silk and Sonder offers a journaling subscription. Each box is filled with beautifully decorated journals that help you track better habits, answer journal prompts, reflect on your health, and express gratitude creatively.

the five minute journal
Intelligent Change, The Five-Minute Journal — $29.00

For people who don’t have much time in their day to expend, the Five-Minute Journal has got you covered. This best-selling journal is easy to follow, offers thought-provoking prompts, and features inspirational quotes to propel you no matter where you are in your gratitude journey.

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