The Five Minute Journal

I’ll admit, I was skeptical when I received my first copy of the Five Minute Journal.

I had started and stopped so many journals. They lined my bookshelves like tombstones, like leather-bound grave markers of all my good intentions. They were too beautiful and blank to write in.

And I like to write.

Sometimes I would snatch one off the shelf, determined to start again, but the empty pages, so inviting at first, would end up staring back at me like empty eye sockets.

So why should I think this time would be any different?

Well, that was a year ago and here I am, still going strong, still burning through page after page of my third volume of the Five Minute Journal.

It’s the simplicity and focus of the journal that makes it work.

I thought journaling was all about writing your wrongs, about filling up dozens and dozens of pages with lurid details until you reached an epiphany. Nope. Because you want to strengthen your self, not your grievances.

This journal is all about writing the right things, just a few of them. Every. Single. Day.

It really is the simplest way I’ve found to start and end my day happy.

That’s because it’s based on research.

The Five Minute Journal is patterned after positive psychology research conducted at The Greater Good Science Center, University of California, Berkeley, in collaboration with the University of California, Davis.

This multi-year study showed that having a practice of gratitude creates a number of benefits:

  • Stronger Immune Systems & Lower Blood Pressure
  • Higher Levels Of Positive Emotion
  • More Joy, Optimism & Happiness
  • Acting With More Generosity & Compassion
  • Feeling Less Lonely & Isolated

I emphasize the word practice because results like this do not typically come from one-offs, or mere spasms of gratitude. They come from habits of gratitude.

With a simple 5-minute guided format, The Five-Minute Journal helps you create a daily empowering habit that actually sticks.

In a nutshell, here’s how it works:

  1. You begin and end each day with gratitude
  2. You set a purposeful intention
  3. You practice being kind to yourself
  4. You celebrate amazing things
  5. And you learn something from your day that you can apply tomorrow

Simple. Done. Blown away.

Over the past year, I’ve developed my own way of filling out The Five-Minute Journal that has taken it up a notch for me.

Here’s my exact protocol:

First, under I am grateful…, I always include the following categories:

  • An object in the room
  • A person
  • An opportunity

Example: I am grateful for…

  • My Pentel RSVP fine point pen, love this thing
  • My long-time friendship with Dave
  • The opportunity to write today and connect with readers

I am indebted to Tim Ferris for this gratitude hack for the journal. It centers me in gratitude for the small things first and then expands my gratitude to my web of relationships and then finally to my opportunities “out there” in the world. Brilliant.

Second, under What would make today great?, I always include these categories:

  • Accomplish something
  • Experience something (nature, culture, or another person)
  • Transcend something

Example: What would make today great?

  • Accomplish first draft of Poisoned, Part 1
  • Experience a cold plunge in the river
  • Transcend feelings of impatience with myself and my body

I got this idea from Viktor Frankl and his book Man’s Search for Meaning. According to Frankl, these are three key attributes of a meaningful life: the ability to accomplish something, experience something, and transcend something. I love this because it points me toward meaningful activities rather than merely busy activities.

Third, under the daily affirmation, I reframe the thing I want to transcend.

For example, "feelings of impatience with myself and my body" becomes:

  • I am always right where I need to be to take the next step.

That’s my secret sauce. I don’t have any special way of filling out the evening section.

The Five Minute Journal has been featured in Business Insider, The 4-Hour Workweek, Lifehacker, and Fortune Magazine. Because it works.

The Five Minute Journal is one of the simplest ways that I have found to consistently ensure improving my well being and happiness. Both in terms of achievement and actual measurable, quantifiable results. --Tim Ferriss, NY Times Best Selling Author

The Five Minute Journal is my secret weapon to help me focus on the good in my life and live with intention. Its simple, structured format is based on positive psychology research that helps me bookend my day—start and end—with gratitude. And throughout the day, it helps me focus on meaningful activities instead of getting caught up in helter-skelter, look-busy nonsense.

Now it’s your turn.

Grow. Be grateful. And focus on the good.


Marc Wagner MD, MPH, NTP

Warning: side effects may include increased happiness, better relationships, and becoming more optimistic.

What are you waiting for? Pick up your copy on Amazon now.

P.S. One reader told me she is giving these out as Christmas gifts this year, along with Salmon Roe for optimal DHA delivery to the brain! Lol. Awesome! Physical and spiritual support for the brain in a single package! That's just brilliant. This is why I love you guys. You are amplifiers of all that is good and true in the world.