Every evening, minus a few exceptions, the first thing I do when I get in bed is write in my gratitude journal. I take a couple of minutes to answer questions about my happiness such as 'what am I grateful for?', 'what did I do great today?', and 'what amazing things happened today?'.

It's something that I absolutely love doing, and it has provided me with more benefits that I initially could imagine. I don't believe in quick fixes when it comes to happiness, I think it's something that you cultivate by years of practice. Inner peace comes to a great extent down to disciplining the mind, so that you live life on your own terms. But if there's one thing that has made a huge instant impact on my level of happiness, it's a gratitude journal. I recommend keeping one to everyone who will listen.

One of my favorite side effects of consequently writing in my journal, is that I look out for moments happiness during the day. In a way, it has made me more mindful about the present moment, the whole day long.

What I realized is that my happiness journal hardly ever contains achievements or accomplishments. It mostly holds precious moments of laughter with my husband, a kind note from a friend, an interesting conversation with a stranger.

This realization has drastically shifted my perspective throughout the day. Whereas I used to be more productivity-focused, I now set myself up for a day with as many of those little happiness moments as possible.

When I'm stressing about a (self-made) deadline, I can let go more easily now, because I know that in the end, I won't judge the value of my day on how much work I got done. I will, however, write about how I celebrated getting something done with an hour of reading in the hammock on the porch, while the sun warmed my feet and the squirrels chased each other in the garden.

For me, my journal is a great reminder to focus on the positive, which has definitely increased my happiness. I love reading previous entries when I'm having a rough day, or when I'm having a great day and I feel like doing even better. I always end up with a big blissful smile on my face.

I used to use the 5 Minute Journal, which is great. I do think, though, that it focuses quite a bit on productivity, rather than solely on gratitude, with questions such as 'how could I have made today better?'. I wanted mine to be a moment of happiness only, so I made my own. It's still inspired by my first journal, and I do recommend getting it if you don't feel like making one. You can also just use a plain notebook and write down things you're grateful for.

All that matters is that you actively try to shift your focus to the positive things in your day. Research has shown over and over again that what we repeatedly sense, feel, and think is slowly but surely sculpting our neural structure1, especially when your gratitude involves other people. A great way of involving others in your shift to the positive is by my friend Diviya's project Choose Gratitude: "I carry around gratitude cards, because there are acts of kindness occurring all around us. Since I have started practicing gratitude, and focusing on the positive, my whole perception has changed. More than brightening up another's day, it is a gentle reminder to be aware, connect with others and be present in the moment. I truly believe that if you incorporate practices into your daily life that encourage gratitude, a positive outlook, increase your hope and optimism, and allow you to connect, you will notice a huge difference in your life."

Do you keep a journal? Have you ever thought of gratitude cards? What are your experiences so far? I'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.

Author's Bio: 

Rikky D. T. Maas coaches gifted, intense, and highly sensitive people in their work, personal lives and relationships. She also writes from all over the world and she recently published a guide on self-education. With her weekly articles she inspires people to be more curious, introspective and open-minded, and empowers the pursuit of a cultivated, meaningful and fulfilling life. You can find her work on her website omniwonder.com or follow her on Twitter @omniwonders.