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Psychological research has started to shed light on how to make yourself happier. New products and apps are launching that use these findings, and one of these promises to make you happier in just five minutes a day.

The Five Minute Journal is the journal for people who don’t keep journals. Built on positive psychology principles, it is structured to make it quick and easy for you to get all the benefits of keeping a journal.

If one of our other articles on journaling How To Keep Writing Daily Journal Or Diary Entries For A Year How To Keep Writing Daily Journal Or Diary Entries For A Year The start of a new year is a great time to begin keeping a journal or diary, but the challenge lies in keeping up your new daily journal writing habit. Read More hasn’t taken your fancy so far, perhaps this one on the Five Minute Journal will.

A Brief History Of Psychology

Since its earliest days, psychology has mainly been focused on dysfunction rather than function. Large amounts of what we know about how the brain works comes from examining people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury, or have a mental illness. Many of the early theories that underlie our understanding of how personality, cognition and memory work, stem from single case studies.

One of the most famous is the case of Phinneas Gage. Gage was a railroad construction worker. In the pre-JCB era, explosives were used for clearing boulders. He was setting an explosive charge when it went off early, driving a tamping iron — essentially a crowbar — right through his skull. It was found more than 20 metres away. The majority of damage was done to his frontal cortex.


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Amazingly, Gage seemed to recover remarkably well. According to doctors at the time, he kept “full possession of his reason”. His friends and family, however, soon noticed a marked change in his personality. Gage began to act inappropriately in social situations; he became impulsive and angry. The changes to his personality resulted in the loss of his job and his wife.

From the case of Gage, neuroscientists and psychologists began to understand how different areas of the brain have different, independent, functions. Gage retained many of them, to the extent that people who did not know him before his accident would not initially suspect anything was amiss, while having a total personality shift.

Gage is far from unique. There have been many case studies with patients with different dysfunctions that have all contributed to our understanding of the brain. While these case studies are illuminating, they tell us more about how things fail than how things work.

To look at what makes people happy and productive a different approach is needed.

Introducing Positive Psychology

Positive psychology is one of the newest disciplines in psychology. It’s focused on using the scientific method to understand how to lead a satisfactory life. Rather than addressing the underlying roots of cognition, or how to address mental illnesses, positive psychology investigates questions like how to lead a happy and fulfilling life.

Positive psychology stems from humanist psychology — and earlier philosophical thinkers like Socrates — but adds the rigour of empirical investigation. Instead of just philosophising over what makes a person happy, the past ten years of research have produced a number of techniques that, empirically, make people happier.

 The Journal For People Who Don’t Keep Journals

Here at MakeUseOf we’ve made no secret of our love for journaling 7 Ways To Keep A Personal Journal 7 Ways To Keep A Personal Journal Journaling is an exercise for the mind and it has several proven benefits, but it can also seem difficult to do. This is primarily due to the overwhelming feeling of having to journal – it... Read More . We’ve even challenged you to spend 30 days journaling Start A Digital Journaling Habit With A 30-Day Challenge Start A Digital Journaling Habit With A 30-Day Challenge One useful path to personal self-improvement is through keeping a journal. But this approach requires journal writing to become a habit. A journaling challenge could be the push you need to just begin. Read More .

The Five Minute Journal, however, is different to other journals. If you’d rather not use a journaling website 5 Useful Sites For Journal Writing Ideas And Techniques 5 Useful Sites For Journal Writing Ideas And Techniques Journal writing has a strong tradition of not only helping writers improve their writing skills, but the process of writing your thoughts, worries, and challenges can also be useful. if you're stuck for ideas or... Read More , or write a diary The Beginner's Guide to Digital Journaling  The Beginner's Guide to Digital Journaling  Maintaining a private journal is a great way to build your writing skills, spill out your thoughts, desires, worries, and reflections on paper. The very act of writing itself can often help you think through... Read More on how your day went, look no further.


You can get the Five Minute Journal as a beautiful physical journal (for $22.95) or an iPhone app (for $4.99). It goes beyond just being a record of your day or a gratitude journal 5 Awesome iOS Apps for Starting & Keeping a Gratitude Journal 5 Awesome iOS Apps for Starting & Keeping a Gratitude Journal Keeping a gratitude journal can result in higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and energy – and we can all be grateful for that. Read More , and instead includes other principles from positive psychology.

You could also take just some of the techniques and work them into a personalized journaling system that’s perfect for you. For example, if you’re on Android you could use Diaro Keep A Beautiful, Orderly, and Private Journal Of Your Thoughts and Days With Diaro For Android Keep A Beautiful, Orderly, and Private Journal Of Your Thoughts and Days With Diaro For Android Keeping a personal journal can often help us make sense of the difficult times in our lives, or better remember the good times. If you're carrying around a smartphone, you already have a powerful and... Read More with the Five Minute Journal method.

The five minutes it takes to do the journaling is split into two sessions: one just after waking up and one just before going to sleep. Neither session should take you more than a few minutes. I find the title exaggerates how much time is really needed.

The Morning Session

The morning session has three sections. The first is a simple gratitude journal.

You list three things that you are grateful for in your life. These can be simple things like a morning kiss from your partner, or things like your continuing health. Amongst other benefits, keeping a gratitude journal has been linked with an increased sense of well being and improved sleep.

Next is a section that asks you to list three things that would make today great.

These all have to be things you have direct control over. Like with the gratitude section, the items can be simple things like remembering to text your mother. Alternatively, I like to use the space to set out what is necessary to achieve long term goals. If you are trying to lose weight for example, putting “go for a walk” and “eat three healthy meals” down as things that would make your day awesome is a great idea; it embeds them in your mind from the moment you wake up.

The final morning section is an affirmation to prime you for the day ahead.

It is about creating the mindset you want. Any statement that starts with “I am”, or similar, works. For example, if you want to be in a confident frame of mind for a presentation later on, writing something like “I am confident about, and enjoy, speaking in front of others”, primes your brain to this idea. Priming can have a remarkable effect on how you approach tasks.


The Evening Session

The evening session is shorter than the morning one with only two sections. First, you think back on your day and remember three amazing things that happened.

As with all the Five Minute Journal’s sections, these can be the smallest victories, like a waitress thanking you for a tip, to life changing events, like your partner agreeing to marry you. People tend to dwell on negatives rather than positives. They think, what went wrong, not what went right. By forcing yourself to reflect on the best things that happened during the day, you are stopping yourself from dwelling on the miserable weather, the guy who cut you off or the hour you spent on the phone to customer service. It serves a very similar purpose to the gratitude section but is much more tightly focussed on the now.

The final section is for an honest reflection on how you could have made your day better.

It is rare that you will have a perfect day. Even on the best of days there will be something that, if you could go back in a time machine, you would change. If I fail at one of my goals for the day, I often describe how I could have changed that here. If, over time, there’s a trend in the things you’d change, that’s something you may want to address. It is meant to be a final reminder before you sleep that you have the power to change things in your life.


The Journal For Everyone

It may be obvious from the article above, that I’m a fan of the Five Minute Journal. It’s the journaling system I’ve used for the last year. I’m a very positive person, but sometimes I’ve some motivation issues. Setting out my goals for the day first thing in the morning helps me achieve them.

A friend of mine was going through some tough times so I got her a physical copy. To her, the affirmation and amazing things sections helped the most. By forcing herself to think back on the smallest victories in a terrible day — even if it was just getting a warm mug of tea after work — she found she was that little bit more positive. No matter what stage of life you are at, how happy you are, or what you are going through, I am certain you will benefit from the Five Minute Journal.

If you use it and love it, please let me know in the comments below. Alternatively, if you hate it and have a far superior system, tell me; I’m open to any awesome new ideas.

Image Credits: The collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus. Five Minute Journal.

  1. Sathyanand Swami
    October 11, 2015 at 6:54 am

    Great post!
    I consider journaling as daily reflection in paper.. It gives us tremendous amount of introspection into the nature of our behaviour, our responses and the like.
    The key I believe is consistency and it is where most of us fail. I have been trying my luck to build this routine and created a simple 3 minutes journaling exercise in the beginning and the end of the day. Given the tiny-ness of the routine, I am slowly able to build moment and now has become almost a habit..
    I would like to hear how others have build this momentum in creating continuity among their journaling habit?
    Thanks again for reiterating the message.

  2. JC
    April 15, 2015 at 11:46 pm

    Guys, 5 min Journal said that an Android version will be released if enough demand is received, lets petition?

    • Alex
      January 26, 2016 at 11:37 am

      Look for "Minute Journal" at Play Store.

  3. TheVictor
    October 16, 2014 at 2:53 am

    Thank you for this article, Mr. Guinness! It is interesting as well as informative.
    • I had to look up what JBC meant. Apparently, it's one of those generically used trademarks—like Kleenex or Tupperware. JCB has come to mean any backhoe or similar earthmover.
    • At first glance, I figured the daguerreotype depicted Gage holding a rifle, but, upon closer inspection, it must be the very tamping iron that shot through his head. That's quite a memento!
    • What's with Intelligent Change Inc. not having an Android version available? It hardly seems as if this app includes a lot of fancy scripting, or whatever, that would make it difficult to translate. When I see apps these days made for only one (usually Apple's) OS, I think the developer is remiss.
    The websites representing this product make no mention of an Android version at all, not even one of those standard "we're working on it" messages. I guess Ikonn and Ramdas are quite happy alienating a rather large population of smartphone users, and due to what I can only regard as their disdainful negligence, I will add the following final point:
    Leaving out some bells and whistles, such as daily inspirational quotes, it would seem the heart of this product/app could be simulated without too much trouble by creating basically identical templates for an app like Evernote (perhaps using KustomNote or a tool of that ilk).

  4. Dennis in Japan
    October 12, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    Millenniums have passed since the Bible and other religious teachings have taught to focus on gratitude and thankfulness. It is good to see science is catching up!

  5. munish
    October 11, 2014 at 6:18 am

    Its better to happy than sad

  6. Robyn
    October 10, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    I've kept a journal for decades now, but like the idea of including specific daily goals and addressing them. Thanks.

  7. Fornik Tsai
    October 9, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    I feel happy when I calm.

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