After a disheartening year of changes, it has become more important than ever to find impactful ways to prioritize one’s well-being and find happiness. When it comes to committing to a healthy lifestyle, consistency is key. Whether it’s physical fitness, a healthy diet, or mental health, the secret to maintaining the consistency is finding a style or routine you can regularly commit to in order to reap the mood-boosting results, even if it’s a brief, 15-second gratitude practice. One of the most accessible, impactful, and sworn by mental health practices is journaling and the benefits are no secret.
A positive psychology research study out of Harvard Medical School showed gratitude to be strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Another famous study conducted by psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, asked participants to write a short list each week focusing on either blessings or burdens they were experiencing. After 10 weeks the study revealed that those who focused on listing what they were grateful for were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Despite the overwhelmingly positive evidence backing the impact of the journaling practice, many people struggle with the idea of opening to a blank page for a heartfelt and enlightening “dear diary” entry. Even as a writer, I found it challenging and intimidating and have a stockpile of barely used notebooks as evidence.
There is a plethora of gratitude journals on the market; however I found myself equally tongue-tied by the overly prompted formats. Out of personal frustration and desperation during a mentally draining time in my life, I adopted a simplified form of gratitude journaling, a practice I call “happy notes”— one that actually sparked me to bring to life my own passion project The Happy Notes Book. The Happy Notes Book is a place to power through life — and celebrate it — with feel-good, for-you memories that aren’t measured by a like button. The daily notebook is designed to encourage and promote a daily gratitude habit by combining the functionality of a traditional everyday lined notebook (on the first two-thirds of the pages), with the simplified “happy notes” gratitude practice (on the last third). The intentions are to keep this self-care ritual inexcusably convenient and accessible during your daily life so it’s something you actually stick to and in turn reap the uplifting benefits.
As it turns out, gratitude journaling doesn't have to mean pages upon pages of mental cleansing in order to reap the uplifting benefits. You can experience the same mood-boosting results in seconds from a simple "happy note" a day. During a challenging time when so many can use a long overdue boost of positivity and joy, I spoke to mental health experts for insight into how this simplified happy notes gratitude practice can help to significantly improve one’s mood and make you a happier person in seconds.
The concept for happy notes is simple: Find a smile in the everyday moments and write it down. “A daily gratitude practice primes your brain to scan for positive events each day,” Dr. Chloe Carmichael, PhD., New York City-based clinical psychologist and author of Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety shares with TZR. The trick is finding a practice you can commit to regularly. The concept is to train your brain to identify and appreciate the joy in daily life moments, no matter how significant or insignificant they may seem — everything from milestone life moments like birthdays and weddings, to the simple subtleties of life like a morning walk, a spontaneous catch up with a friend, or a calming bubble bath. “This is super helpful because we don't experience positive emotions from happy events that we don't fully register or realize. Our society can sometimes reward us more for noticing problems or criticisms [rather] than for noticing positives, so creating our own reward system for recognizing positive events works to our benefit,” explains Carmichael to TZR.
It’s at this intersection of effective-meets-simplicity that “happy notes” lies. I reimagined the once intimidating blank page of my notebook into three sections that prompt easy-to-identify, short form “happy notes.” The first titled “moments of joy,” is for the daily life moments that left you smiling, no matter how big or small they may seem. Next is “excited for,” to list the things you are looking forward to in the days and weeks ahead. This primes your brain to recognize and focus on the happy moments to come, like dinner with the family, an evening walk, or a long overdue evening of self-care. Last, is “to accomplish,” which involves listing intentions for the days ahead. I like to focus on the non-work-related tasks for this one, like try a new recipe, call grandma, or take a yoga class.
By simplifying gratitude journaling into a snackable list of grateful moments and things I am looking forward to, it’s become a practice I have successfully committed to for years. “Sometimes, less really is more,” shares Carmichael with TZR. “In other words, focusing on the plain and essential points of gratitude can often be more impactful than a six-page journal entry that might meander off-track. Keeping it "short and sweet" also takes the pressure off producing mountains of material, allowing us to really bask in the undiluted, pure-and-simple truth of what inspires gratitude each day,” she adds.
Whether you’re using a pretty new Happy Notes Book, scribbling your happy note on the back of a napkin, or picking up the phone to call or text a note of appreciation to someone in your life, this simple, effective, and impactful practice helps you put your happiness in focus. “Gratitude is borrowing good luck from the future. While we certainly are not guaranteed anything going forward, we tend to actualize more success, health, love, and abundance when we extend that to others and the self,” explains Dr Nancy Irwin, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist to TZR. “We get what we focus on, and whatever we focus on expands. Acknowledging what you are grateful for now allows your subconscious mind to shift into a new homeostasis and attract more success, health, love, and abundance. It becomes the new ‘familiar,’” she adds.
One of the most fascinating facts about practicing gratitude is the exponential impact it has when shared with someone else. “You never know how one simple kindness can make someone's day,” explains Irwin to TZR. “A handwritten thank you note, a sincere phone call, or a kind text acknowledging someone else's thoughtfulness or favor reinforces this. It encourages them to continue living this way, to know it was noticed and it meant something” she share with TZR. It was this notion that inspired me to tuck a stamped envelope and a blank notecard inside every Happy Notes Book, in order to inspire people to share their gratitude with others —and make it inexcusably convenient for them to do so. “We all want to feel like we count, like we matter. Acknowledgement underscores that and gives us a sense of belonging,” explains Irwin to TZR. “Further, we never know how depressed, or sad, or lost someone feels; extending a simple kindness can give them the very thread of hope they need to go on,” she adds.
After a year full of extreme changes to everyday life, many of us have been challenged to find a new appreciation for the simple life moments we once taken for granted. While social calendars shifted from nights out, concerts, sporting events, and gatherings, to nights in with games, puzzles, and home cooking, my Happy Notes Book had no shortage of heartwarming moments of joy and things to get excited about. This daily mental health practice has helped me gain daily perspective and identify those silver linings that continue to fuel the soul day after day. The best part: It takes as little as 15 seconds a day to jot yourself a happy note — or share one with someone else — and reap the mood-boosting benefits that will help make this world a happier place.