How to Improve your Mood & Productivity with Gratitude Journaling

I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of a skeptic. Sometimes (ok, a lot of the time), I catch myself finding the glass half empty instead of half full. So when I picked up Nataly Kogan’s book, Happier Now, my expectations were pretty low. I’m not a big fan of the self-help genre, but Nataly was giving a keynote speech at a conference my former employer was producing, so I felt like I needed to read the book for research. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the advice she shared was research-backed and scientific rather than filled with platitudes. Admittedly, I liked it so much that I even passed the book on to my husband to read.

Fast forward two years. As I was working on a blog post offering up self-care tips for small business leaders, my research took me to the practice of gratitude. It’s a concept that Nataly covers quite a bit in her book, and it’s something I’ve dabbled with here and there, but never fully committed to doing regularly. As I was reading more about self-care and talking to experts who’ve changed their lives and their businesses through self-care practices , this theme of gratitude kept recurring. And an idea was born. What if I took Nataly’s advice and tried practicing gratitude for just 21 days? What might happen? Last month, I kicked off this experiment--hopeful, but slightly skeptical. What happened? Spoiler alert: I found that a simple gratitude journal might be the key to better productivity. Keep reading to find out why.

Day One Update 

Morning thoughts: Time to use this nifty new Turtle Journal I bought on Amazon. I’m a word nerd, so I love the smell of a new book and the way it feels in your hand when you crack that spine for the first time. Call me old school, but I still love writing my lists on paper. However, this morning gratitude prompt feels an awful lot like a school assignment or icebreaker. Every year right around Thanksgiving, they’d have us all go around the room and share three things we were thankful for. Almost everyone said some variation of the same thing--friends, family, pets. What can I say that doesn’t feel too general or cliche? Is it ridiculous to say that I’m thankful for Kashi Peanut Butter Crunch cereal? In all honesty, I am.

Evening thoughts: I took the dog for a walk at lunch, and when I got back, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for both the gorgeous weather today and the flexibility I have to take walks with her at lunch, thanks to my remote position. Could it be that this morning’s exercise made my mind more attuned to recognize things to be grateful for? 🤔Or was that small dose of sunshine just good for my soul? 😎The verdict's still out, but I’m looking forward to continuing this experiment.

Day Five Update

It’s my fifth day of this experiment, and so far, so good! I’ve made it almost one-fourth of the way through, so there’s no turning back now. I think I can do this! What are my main observations five days in? For one thing, it seems to be getting a little easier. For the first few days, it took me a while to think of three new things to write down every morning. Maybe I’ve just gotten into the habit by now, or perhaps I’m more attuned to the positive things happening in my life, but I noticed it only took me a few seconds to jot down the three things I was grateful for this morning. Progress? In terms of my mood, I haven’t noticed any massive shifts, but I do feel a little calmer. When minor annoyances popped up yesterday, I dealt with them and moved on instead of wallowing in negativity. Let’s hope that pattern continues!

Day Eight Update

I’ve begun to notice that gratitude begets more gratitude. Today I felt inspired to send a few thank you emails to customers and some handwritten notes to friends. After writing those notes, I found it easier to complete by evening gratitude journaling. I guess I was in a gratitude mindset. I’d meant to write those notes for a while, so it felt good to check it off my list.

Day Fifteen Update 

Related to by reflections from day eight, I’m also noticing that progress inspires progress. Starting my day off by writing down what I’m thankful for, has been a helpful way to trigger the start of my workday. I’ve gotten in the habit of writing in my gratitude journal while I drink my morning coffee, and it feels so productive to begin the day with a quick win and quick check off an often long-to-do-list. It helps me feel more inspired to dive right in and complete another task for the day.

Day Eighteen Update

I can’t believe I’ve almost reached the finish line! This gets easier by the day, but it’s almost becoming routine. Does this dull the shine of the gratitude? Make it less sincere? Maybe I’m overthinking it! As a random aside, I’m noticing more and more tweets about gratitude lately. Is it just because we’re getting closer to the holiday season, or is gratitude becoming a common practice in the business world? General observations as I head towards the finish line:

  1. I’ve enjoyed making gratitude a part of my daily routine
  2. I think I’ll continue to do this even after the experiment is over
  3. It’s been fun to hear how others make gratitude part of their regular wellness and work routine. Maybe I’m late to the party here.

Day Twenty-one Update

I made it! I’m proud that I keep up with this consistently. For any fellow writers out there, I will say this. If you’re ever in a writing slump, think about expressing gratitude. It’s the perfect writing prompt. For all the non-writers who are reading this post, I sincerely recommend trying this 21-day experiment yourself. I’ve honestly noticed improvements in my mood, stress levels, and productivity. And I absolutely plan to continue this practice and make it part of my daily routine. It’s a perfect example of a small act of self-care that’s easy to implement, costs nothing, and can really make a difference. Don’t get me wrong; I still have plenty of frustrating days or moments. I even catch myself complaining and venting. But overall, I can feel my brain working harder to find the positive moments in each day. In my opinion, that makes me a better version of myself--at work and in my personal life.

Bringing It All Together

Whether you’re beginning to set resolutions for the year ahead or just in the mood to reflect and give thanks during this holiday season, I highly recommend giving gratitude a try. And if, like me, you’re a skeptic, pick up a copy of Nataly Kogan’s book, Happier Now. The scientific evidence she shares is pretty compelling!

Performing at your best at work requires more than just skill mastery. As self-care becomes a more essential component for the future of work, the employees and businesses who see the most success will be the ones who invest in their well-being. Gratitude is one way to do just that. Looking for other ways to make self-care part of your day-to-day routine? To find a better balance in 2020 and drive your small business forward? Be sure to read this article, which offers dozens of practical tips for making self-care part of your daily routine.