Which Wins: Gratitude Journal vs. Daily Affirmations

There’s no doubt working out exercises both your physical and mental health. Whether you’re pumping iron, learning moves to Bey’s new song or flowing through a vinyasa, your muscles are getting stronger and releasing mood-boosting endorphins. But sometimes daily exercise isn’t enough when it comes to setting yourself up for a productive day or clearing your mind of life’s stresses.

For that, some turn to writing down their feelings and goals or outwardly proclaiming good thoughts to themselves. In school, we learned about visual and auditory learners–how some are better at retaining lessons by writing them in a notebook while others learn better by listening to the instructor’s words. Could the same be true with our own affirmations or, like our teachers expressed, does each practice strengthen when practiced together?

Gratitude journal

Sometimes the cure to a bad day is getting every emotion off your chest and into a notebook. But this can go for great days, travel days and boring days, too. Journaling is a great stress reliever as well as a way to recount memories years down the road and see how much you’ve grown throughout your life.

A study from the University of Minnesota and the University of Florida asked participants to record a list of positive events at the end of the day and why the moments made them happy. The participants self-reported their stress levels lowered and they felt calmer at night after performing the activity. In addition, writing in a gratitude journal can help you gain a new perspective of what’s most important in your life and cut out anything that might be adding to your stress.

Another study found that jotting down a few grateful statements in a journal just 15 minutes before bed helped people sleep deeper and longer. In a separate study, researchers found people who were grateful reported feeling healthier, exercised more often and attended regular doctor check-ups.

The first steps to writing in your own gratitude journal is setting aside time before bed to dedicate to you, your pen and your thoughts. Set a timer to remind yourself, then spend 15 minutes recording 5-10 things you’re grateful for that day. These don’t have to deep–taking in the warm sun during your lunch break, hugging your dog after the long work day–so don’t get discouraged if you aren’t becoming the next Maya Angelou after a week of journaling. After a while, you may find yourself writing more detailed entries and for longer amounts of time. It’s all for you and your health.

Daily affirmations

You know those movie scenes that show the main character standing in front of a mirror before a big event encouraging themselves that “they can do this, you got this”? Well, it might seem silly, but those positive statements can reap big benefits. Self-affirmations–the process of identifying and targeting your most important values–help a person focus, provoke creativity and when practiced regularly, reinforce a chemical pathway in the brain that can make you repeat the same message during a time of stress. Research shows that self-affirmation can protect against the damaging effects of stress and boost problem-solving abilities.

Unlike a gratitude journal, self-affirmations should be practiced in the morning when your brain is waking up and you have the ability to set the tone for the rest of your day. These proclamations don’t have to be long. Set aside 5-10 minutes right when you wake up, and before you get out of bed take a few deep breaths and whisper a positive message to yourself three times. Some examples include “I have all that I need to make this a great day” and “I am happy and content with this life.”

In addition to helping yourself, affirmations can also benefit the people around you. When you shift from negative, insecure thoughts to positive, appreciative notions you’ll evoke a happy presence and pass that on to others you interact with. Shifting your outlook might take time and you may have to correct yourself throughout the day or encourage yourself to repeat those good-feeling lines three times each morning, but soon you won’t even think twice to shutting down that little voice in the back of your head saying you can’t do something. You totally can.

The winner

Writing in a gratitude journal and speaking affirmations out loud to yourself increase your self esteem, your outlook on life and the attitudes of people around you. Can you really pick a true winner?

Well, it’ll likely come down to personal preference. If you’re more comfortable putting your thoughts on paper, then keeping a notebook of what you’re most thankful for each day may better fit your lifestyle. But if you enjoy speaking through your emotions, try repeating them each morning. And if you’re really up for a personal challenge practice both. There’s no such thing as too many good vibes.

Emily is a recent graduate and proud Midwesterner who just moved to the big city to start her career in magazine journalism. When she isn't commuting between Brooklyn and Manhattan, she enjoys browsing bookstores for her next read, sipping chai tea lattes at local coffee shops, and playing tourist in the city she always dreamed of living in.