Experiments on the gratitude journal has shown that it contains benefits including better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, and more happiness. I believe that having a gratitude journal is one of the major weapons in the war against depression because I believe that depression isn’t just a scientific phenomenon, it is the “practice” of pessimism.
Every new event that happens in our lives happens in this way: 1) Event happens 2) Filters through unconscious 3) Conscious mind interprets it – neurons fire into each other to communicate the interpretation 4) Neural Pathway is created.
Every time you interpret the event in a similar manner, the neural pathway is reinforced. In your brain, Mylene Sheath forms around the pathways to make the associations faster. This is similar to a computer indexing things to make search faster. Mylene Sheath acts like a lubricant that makes the neural pathway faster, making the associations faster.
My hypothesis is that pessimism is a learned neurological pathway. A good example of this is the fear of heights, which most babies learn when they fall off tall objects for the first time. After falling, they learn to judge heights, and their brains will form a neural pathway to associate falling with pain. Pessimism is learned through negative associations and consequences as well as failures in life. Such associations form neural pathways and are reinforced by Mylene Sheath so that pessimism becomes habitual. Like an athlete that has practiced a million jump shots, a pessimist has practiced a million negative associations.
Through Positive Psychology, I believe that pessimism can be unlearned. A pessimist has to change his or her thoughts and have numerous neural pathways associated with optimism in order to become a learned optimist. The Gratitude Journal is a prime example of this learning experience. When events are interpreted as more positive, new neural pathways are formed. As one regularly updates the gratitude journal, he or she is actually practicing optimism by using these new neural pathways. From repeated use, Mylene Sheath forms around the neural pathways and makes positive associations faster.
The person becomes an optimist by “practicing” optimism.
It’s important to do the journal correctly. Martin Seligman suggests that expressing three gratitudes a day and writing “why it happened” matters a lot. But I would like to add that anyone who should do this should write their journals at night. Research on sleep suggests that the best time for neural pathways to form is during sleep – that is the time when we resolve all the things in our unconscious. I thus believe that the best time to write a gratitude journal is before we go to bed.
We start a gratitude journal with an event, and then we write about why it happened. It’s important to try to relive the event in your mind, and elaborate on it. It’s better to elaborate than to list a a bunch of positive events – quality over quantity. Focusing on events and people for which you are grateful are also far better predictors of happiness. It’s not our “stuff” that contributes to our happiness, it’s the people and the experiences that do. You do not need to write in your journal daily, but I believe 2- 3 times a week is a good place to start.
Dr Emmons from UC-Davis, one of the leaders in the study of the gratitude journal says, “Writing helps to organize thoughts, facilitate integration, and helps you accept your own experiences and put them in context…In essence, it allows you to see the meaning of events going on around you and create meaning in your own life….The important thing is to establish the habit of paying attention to gratitude-inspiring events.”
- Start A Gratitude Journal This Holiday Season (pinkandblack-magazine.com)
- Keeping a Gratitude Journal: A Better Way (bipolarlessons.com)