Joy Journaling: Motivation to Move Forward


I first heard of Joy Journaling during my health coach training 3 years ago. One of my practice partners explained it to me during a practice session. She’d previously used this technique and wanted to get back in the routine of using again. In other words, make it a habit. Something a good coach help their clients achieve. Joy–being a fruit of the Holy Spirit, made me eager to learn more and help her find a way to make it a routine part of her day.

She explained how, as an Occupational Therapy student, she was stressed. Pressed for time to keep up with her studies, eat well, move her body, foster her relationship with her fiance, she felt out of balance. She was feeling resentful, grumpy and impatient with herself and others. Knowing these issues were all blessings, she struggled with feeling blessed when she felt so drained. She wanted to do something concrete to change her attitude because she didn’t like where it was taking her.

Catalyst for Change

Enter: Joy Journaling. She told me how she done this in the past, but had gotten away from it. Her face lit up as she reminisced‌ how grateful she would feel after writing down 3 things she was thankful for at the end of the day. Not just the same things day after day, but specific things that really brought her joy earlier in the day. It was like reliving those slivers of time. Savoring them. Reflecting on those moments of joy before she went to sleep put her in the right frame of mind to drift off to sleep easier. Better sleep meant better memory, food choices, energy throughout the day and a general upward spiral. Joy Journaling was the catalyst for it all.

As we talked, we not only discussed the benefits, but the barriers as well. I was able to coach her through them and light a fire under her to pick a notebook/journal up on her way home that evening. The next day, she couldn’t wait to tell me how she found the perfect journal, made her first entry and slept better than she had in weeks. Success!

An Attitude of Gratitude

There is some science behind Joy Journaling or tuning into an attitude of gratitude. Restructuring negative thoughts into positive ones has actually been proven to decrease heart attacks in a study done at Mount Zion Medical Center in San Francisco (1). In other research at UC Davis, Professor Robert Emmons found thankful people don’t necessarily ignore negative things in life. Rather, they choose to see and appreciate the positive things as well. Grateful people are deemed more helpful as problem solvers and more apt to have a larger network of support.

Dr. Emmons and his colleagues also found people who kept a list of things they were grateful for (Joy Journaling!) also “exercised more often, had fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives and were more positive about week ahead compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events. Similarly, those who focused on gratitude were more likely to have made progress toward their important personal goals. So it seems gratitude is motivating, not demotivating. Grateful people report more positive emotions, more vitality and optimism, and greater life satisfaction as well as lower levels of stress and depression.” (2)

Gratitude stimulates the reward centers in the brain. Simply smiling for 20 seconds can trigger chemicals inside the body that make us feel happy and thus enabling us to feel more confident about moving forward with our goals(2). Some may ask, what comes 1st? Gratitude/joy or smiling? Does it matter? As an upward spiral, I think not. It’s fear that keeps us stuck. Fear to change. As gratitude and joy bubble up, they pop those fears and help us transform that fear into motivation to move forward.

As you can see, the simple act of Joy Journaling has many physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health benefits. It takes just a few minutes a day, but can actually change our inner chemistry and help us move toward God and our goals in life. Anything that helps us rejoice and celebrate the good things in life encourages us to repeat them. Positive reinforcement-the kind that helps us move forward with our goals. The kind that helps build healthy habits that will allow you to live the active productive life you desire and deserve!

What brings you the most Joy? How can you relive more of those Joyful moments every day?

The Pray. Eat. Move. Journal would make a perfect Joy Journal. It’s daily prompts are uplifting to help you tune into that attitude of gratitude (especially if you’re not feeling it). For more on journaling, check out my post on Daily Logs and my free Guide to Journaling: Connecting With God & Improve Your Health.


  • 1. Using Your Mind to Heal Your Body. Lori Miller Kase. Perspectives Stress Management
  • 2. The Book of Joy. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams.
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