How to be happy by practicing Gratitude Journalling!

Gratitude – a strong feeling of appreciation to someone or something for what the person has done to help you.

What is gratitude journalling?

Gratitude journalling is keeping a record of things for which someone is grateful. This is a popular practice in the field of positive psychology.

Why practice gratitude journalling?

Burnout and high stress situations are very common in medicine. It has been studied that participants who practice gratitude journalling were more optimistic, had more positive affect, enthusiasm, determination, and alertness.

Practicing daily gratitude journalling has made me more positive in life. There were many occasions when as the most junior doctor (FY1), I felt surprised at how calm I was in difficult situations compared to my seniors. This is when I noticed that deliberate practice is required to be able to handle these high-pressure situations.

Some examples of how you could practice gratitude:
  • Enjoying the taste of a great cup of coffee.
  • Being appreciative of having great colleagues in a very busy job and bonding over shared experiences – I am sure these will be experiences I will miss one day.

At the end of the day, it is what we make of it. My opinion is that life goes on regardless and it is up to us to decide whether to focus on the positives or the negatives.

I would keep in mind though that being ‘happy-go-lucky’ in medicine does NOT necessarily mean lower clinical standards – we can still provide good quality of care without being overly anxious and perfectionistic about every clinical plan. We might even have a clearer mind and practice medicine to greater precision.

The best part is – we can be grateful for literally anything depending on your tendencies. A nature lover might be grateful that they can hear birds chirping as they breathe in fresh air, whilst an ambitious colleague might be grateful for finally getting their orthopaedics training number. In both scenarios, the act of reflecting and writing down what they are grateful for causes a surge of neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin), which primes the brain to think of more things you are grateful for. It also builds neuron pathways and makes you a positive person. Your brain then does this subconsciously. Exercise for the brain! 

Suggestions for making it stick:

Gratitude journalling should be a habit. Habits should be simple and easy. You can keep a notebook or even just a piece of paper. I tend to do mine with a nice cup of coffee and a nice notebook and pen, however NHS pen and paper works well too!

  1. Morning cup of coffee
  2. Then, mobilise my upper and lower body
  3. Then, gratitude journal

By chunking the three things, it reduces mental friction and increases likelihood of habit formation.

Some suggestions on how to fit gratitude journalling into the day:
  • In the morning, during the ‘lie in’ phase
  • Right when you put the kettle on
  • When the FY1 is printing the morning list
Here is a sample entry from myself:

1) I am grateful for…

Being trusted by my colleagues to review patients today. Communicating better with my partner. Practically speaking, I feel like I am quite healthy lately.

2) Today I would like to work on…

Giving myself more time to relax and take it easy. Ask a personal question about one of my colleagues and get to know them better. Move my body and get flexible.

3) I am…

Gritty. Deserve to follow my dreams. A healthy person – I have been doing lots of home cooking recently!

4) What went well today?

I went for a walk around the park – seeing sun and people was nice. Built self assembled coffee table – I think I have a reasonable degree of DIY skills.

5) What could have been better?

Hydrate more. Could have done a bit more studying. Put less pressure on myself to always be doing something.

Final words

As you journal, notice if there are recurring themes you’re grateful for. Think of ways to incorporate more of these things in your life!

For example, this might be including a person you enjoy spending time with. Try to set up a coffee date or walking meetups etc. If you notice that you enjoy spending time alone in calm and peaceful scenarios, then maybe take more walks and don’t feel guilty about not showing up to parties/nights out.          

Looking back at my entries over the past few years as I write this article, things that make me happiest are being healthy, exercising frequently, having deeper human connections and indulging in hobbies. I should be doing more of these things and avoiding things that make me feel the opposite way.

Reflecting on what we are grateful for can help us prioritise what is important in our life. We are very busy with our clinical work and if we can cut down on unnecessary things, we will feel happier.

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”Voltaire

“I get up every morning and it’s going to be a great day. You never know when it’s going to be over, so I refuse to have a bad day.”Paul Henderson

 “I feel a very unusual sensation—if it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude.”Benjamin Disraeli

Resources I recommend
  • Presently : A Gratitude Journal (App)
  • One sec (app filter)
  • The Mind the Bleep Gratitude Journal Bundle!
7 Day Gratitude Journal Bundle 1 min

Here’s an example page from our gratitude journal! Find the links to all the templates below!

Created by Dr Brandon Ho.

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