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How can journaling help you experience more positive emotions?

Published: 20/10/2022
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Date of the last update: 20.10.2022

At one point or another, most people have turned to their journal to transfer what is in their mind onto a page. For added mental health benefits, try taking a trip outdoors the next time you pick up your pen to journal. Studies have found that increased exposure to nature is associated with more positive emotions; this finding extends beyond nature reserves that are rather untouched by humans and includes parks and other maintained green spaces. 

Table of Contents:

  1. Experiences of each of your senses
  2. Gratitude journaling
  3. Best possible selves
  4. Thought change records
  5. Activity monitoring and planning

You can read this article in 4 minutes.

Experiences of each of your senses

To become grounded in your surroundings, begin by journaling about the experiences of each of your senses. Perhaps you are taking in the details of certain plants or noting the fresh air you are breathing. Once you feel immersed in your surroundings, there are other several journaling exercises that have been supported by research for their ability to increase positive and decrease negative emotions. 

Gratitude journaling

  1. Write down three good things that happened in the last 24 hours. These can be as big as reaching a long-term goal or as small as enjoying your morning coffee. 
  2. Write a letter thanking someone who has had a positive impact on your life. Ask yourself, what are your favorite memories from your time together? What are the most important things they have said to you or done for you? Which aspects of their personality do you most admire? How would your life be different if they were not in it? You may choose to deliver this letter to the recipient or simply keep it to yourself.

These two exercises serve as reminders of the positives that often go overlooked. By making an effort to reflect on life with gratitude, you may start to notice more in the moment as well. 

Best possible selves

  1. Imagine a future where everything has turned out as well as it possibly could. You have achieved all of your goals and are living the life you have always dreamed of.
  2. Write about what this future would look like in as much detail as possible. To get started, note, what are you doing and where? Who surrounds you? How do you feel? 
  3. Next, anticipate any challenges that may get in the way of you becoming your best self.
  4. Finally, plan several possible ways to overcome these obstacles and what you may do if your first solution does not work as expected. 

By combining imagination and goal-setting techniques, this activity reminds us that we can achieve our ideal future. 

Thought change records

Your feelings are always valid, but sometimes the thoughts behind them can lead us to feel more negatively about a situation than we need to. When you find yourself experiencing a strong negative emotion, try the following:

  1. Start by writing about what you were doing and what was in your environment when you noticed your feelings becoming more negative.
  2. Label the specific negative emotion you are experiencing. If this is an unfamiliar task, you may consider looking at a “feelings wheel”.
  3. Continue by writing down any negative automatic thoughts that may be contributing to your negative emotions. These thoughts feel true, but tend to be founded in inaccuracies. 
  4. Determine any errors in thinking that may have contributed to a negative bias. Are you ignoring evidence of past resilience and you or someone else’s positive qualities? Did you take on unnecessary blame for a troubling situation? Could one bad thing be defining the whole picture or even your perspective on the future?
  5. List any evidence that supports your negative automatic thoughts as well as any that refutes them.
  6. Weighing all the evidence on both sides, write down a new way of thinking about the situation. If you are struggling to come up with a more positive appraisal, consider the possibility that it simply taught you something about yourself or the world. 

While this activity may provide some relief immediately after completion, there are even more benefits to being able to reflect on patterns that occur over several thought change records. Perhaps there are certain triggers for your negative emotions or errors in thinking that you use most frequently. Before long, more rational thoughts will come naturally.  

Activity monitoring and planning

  1. One day, from start to finish, write down each activity you do and how you feel during it. 
  2. Journal about how your actions connect to your feelings. Are you doing any of these activities on “autopilot”? Is there anything that may be unenjoyable in the moment, but will make you feel relieved or accomplished when you complete it? Which parts of your day bring you more joy than you previously recognized?
  3. Use your reflections to determine if you want to increase, decrease, or not change the amount of time you dedicate to each activity. 
  4. Plan your future days with consideration of how you wish to spend your time. Start with changes that seem the easiest to make and seek support along the way.

Over time, you may start to notice changes in your energy or mood as a result of more intentional scheduling. Taken together, these journaling tools are useful for gaps between therapy sessions or individual personal development. With that being said, go grab your journal!

Check out also: Keeping a Diary – Advantages and Challenges


  1. Loveday, P. M., Lovell, G. P., & Jones, C. M. (2018). The best possible selves intervention: A review of the literature to evaluate efficacy and guide future research. Journal of Happiness Studies, 19(2), 607-628.
  2. McMahan, E. A. (2018). Happiness comes naturally: Engagement with nature as a route to positive subjective well-being.
  3. Oettingen, G., & Gollwitzer, P. M. (2017). Health behavior change by self-regulation of goal pursuit: Mental contrasting with implementation intentions. In The Routledge international handbook of self-control in health and well-being (pp. 418-430). Routledge.
  4. Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. American psychologist, 60(5), 410.
  5. Wright, J. H. (2006). Cognitive behavior therapy: Basic principles and recent advances. Focus, 4(2), 173-178.
Naturally Balanced
The Naturally Balanced team includes experts in their field who create the best content for you, collaborating on their knowledge and experience.