A few years ago, on a really, really bad day, I Googled “how to be happier” in a desperate attempt to find answers to the difficult questions I was asking myself about my life. I lost a few hours in that proverbial internet rabbit hole, overwhelmed by all the positive psychology advice and not sure where to start.
I knew self-care played an important role in my well-being, but I was working 50+ hours a week and struggling to stay on top of my workload. How could I possibly manage to make time for all the things the experts said I should do?
As luck would have it – although I don’t really believe in luck, I like to think it’s more like divine guidance – I discovered a blog/podcast that uplifted and inspired me, which I started listening to on my commute to and from work.
Even “luckier”, I won a giveaway at the end of season one: an incredible prize package featuring the products of guests interviewed on the show. One of those products was The Five Minute Journal.
When I read the first few pages of the journal, which explain the science and intention behind its design, I was struck by the beauty of its simplicity. It literally takes only five minutes a day to fill out. There are three questions in the morning and two in the evening, each which can be completed in about a minute. It really is the simplest way to start incorporating positive psychology into your everyday routine.
I have dabbled in journalling for most of my life, turning to it in times of emotional distress when I needed to vent. I would fill pages and pages with the negativity I wanted to release, but found that I felt no better after I ran out of words than when I began. The reason is this: when you focus on negative thoughts, you get negative results. By focusing on the negative in my journalling I was creating more of those negative feelings within me.
This is why the Five Minute Journal has been so effective for me. The structure of the questions focus on the positive, encouraging me to practice gratitude, take action, and learn from mistakes by re-framing them as opportunities for growth.
I like to think of the Five Minute Journal as the gateway habit to happiness – it’s so easy to get started with just a few minutes when you wake up and before you go to bed. Don’t be fooled by the minimal investment of time, however. Small actions performed consistently compound into big change. Remember: a tiny 1% improvement every day turns into a complete transformation in 100 days … just over three months!
This journal is perfect for you if:
- You want to do something good for yourself but feel you’re too busy to make time for it
- You are curious about positive psychology but don’t know where to start
- You have a hard time sticking with new habits
- You love the idea of keeping a daily log of your life but don’t enjoy journalling in the traditional sense
How does it work?
Each day begins with an inspirational quote, which I just love (and often share on my Instagram story). Here’s one of my favorites:
“Action is the foundational key to all success.”
– Pablo Picasso
Once a week the quote is replaced with a challenge, such as dancing to your favourite song or connecting with a friend… things we know we should do to feel happier but don’t always make time for.
The rest of the page is split out into two sections, one for the morning and one for the evening.
In the morning you reflect on three topics:
1. I am grateful for…
Studies have shown that practicing gratitude is good for us not only emotionally, but physically too! When you’re making this list it’s important to actually experience the feeling of gratitude as you write.
I have found it’s easiest to do this when I get really specific about the thing I’m grateful for. For example, this morning I didn’t just write “I am grateful for My Productivity Planner”, but also added “which helps me feel organized and in control”.
2. What would make today great?
Part of the enjoyment of pleasant experiences is the anticipation, and this section helps you create moments to look forward to during your day. When I first started the journal I would list things that I needed to get done, like “preparing for x client meeting” or “finishing x report”. These were things I had been procrastinating on, and while yes it would be great to get them done they weren’t things I looked forward to.
Now I write things like “treat myself to green juice” or “take 10 minutes to watch a TED Talk” – things I can’t wait to get out of bed and do!
3. Daily affirmation/intention. I am …
The person you are today is the sum total of all the the decisions you have made in the past. To me, this means that you are responsible for creating who you are and that you are able to grow into the person you want to become by changing the decisions you make. By setting a daily intention beginning with “I am”, you are taking responsibility for creating your future self and giving your mind some important instructions.
You are much more likely to follow through on a behaviour shift if you tell yourself what you do want instead of what you don’t want. For example, instead of writing “I do not procrastinate”, I chose to write “I am focused and productive when it is time to work”.
In the evening, you reflect on two topics:
1. Three amazing things that happened today…
This is probably my favourite part of the journal. Keeping track of the best moments and experiences on a daily basis creates your own personal “inventory of awesome”! You can flip back through your journal and relive the highlights whenever you need a little boost. I just opened my journal to a random page: January 16th, the day I booked a flight to Spain. What a great memory that brings up!
Another benefit of doing this is that it helps you kick that habit of complaining by practicing reflecting on the good. Next time someone asks you “How was your day?” you’ll be far more likely to say “Amazing!”
2. How could I have made today better?
Being happier doesn’t require you to rid yourself of problems, but it does require you to look at them differently. Each problem or failure that you face represents an opportunity if you can re-frame it in a positive way.
If you ask yourself “What problem did I encounter today?” you’re reliving a negative experience. By framing the question as the journal does you are practicing looking at your problems from an action-oriented perspective: What could I do differently next time?
Similar to how the morning intention works, you are planting a seed for positive change. Next time you encounter a similar struggle you will be more likely to recall the new behaviour you prefer and choose differently.
“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it”
– Roald Dahl
It took me a long time to make the Five Minute Journal a part of my daily routine.
For the first year I used it rather sporadically; my commitment came at a time when I was feeling really stuck in a slump and was returning to the idea of self-care. I knew there was no quick-fix solution to what I was feeling, but I believed in the magic of my mind and it’s ability to rewire itself over time.
I’m sharing this because I don’t want you to think that you will buy this journal and *POOF* you are magically a happier person. The truth is that it takes time, and a commitment to stick with it, to develop new habits.
I committed to five minutes a day, consistently for five months, and am now a much happier person.
Lisa Zamparo is a financial strategist and lifestyle optimist, as well as a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA), business coach and personal finance expert in Toronto who helps people make intentional decisions with their money.
As a one-on- one coach, her personalized approach to financial planning helps her clients achieve their goals by aligning their spending with their priorities.
As an inspirational educator, Lisa leads workshops that infuse mindfulness principles with financial concepts delivered in a fun and approachable style.