Some people are reaching for their gratitude journals before their morning cups of coffee. It’s me – I’m those people.
Odds are, you’ve seen the rise in popularity of gratitude journals recently. A gratitude journal is exactly what it sounds like — a journal where you write down everything and anything for which you’re grateful. It sounds easy, because it is!
Everyone wants to find the hack to make them the happiest, most mindful, and health-centered people. And shockingly, adding a practice of gratitude into your everyday life could be the answer to that.
The History of Gratitude
Practicing gratitude isn’t new. In fact, it’s more abnormal not to practice gratitude. We say ‘thank you’ when someone holds the door open for us or when a waiter brings us our food. We have a holiday dedicated to focusing on and remembering all the things for which we’re grateful. Whether we dedicate time to write in a journal or not, gratitude is woven throughout all of our days.
So, why is journaling so important if gratitude is omnipresent?
Many studies have been conducted about the actual effects of gratitude. We all know it’s good and polite to say thank you, but not many people know how good. Dr. Robert Emmons and Dr. Michael McCullough created a study in which they asked their participants to write a short list every week that centered around either their blessings or burdens. After ten weeks, those who listed what they were grateful for felt more optimistic and better about their lives than when they had started.
Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, also conducted a study on gratitude in which he asked a group of participants to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone in their lives who had never been properly thanked. The participants showed a huge increase in their happiness scores that lasted well over a month after the study concluded.
There’s something beautifully simple about knowing one of the best ways to be happy is to simply be grateful. No scams, schemes, or purchases necessary, just gratitude.
How to Keep a Gratitude Journal
Everyone is so busy and it’s often hard to find time to even make breakfast in the morning, much less sit down and make a list of everything you’re grateful for. Thankfully, there’s not just one way to practice gratitude.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael, PhD. suggests the best way to incorporate gratitude into our daily lives is to alter the practice to fit our needs.
You can practice gratitude by finding a blank sticky note and jotting one good thing on it a day. You can also meditate every morning on something for which you’re grateful. And yes, you could get a gratitude journal and take five minutes a day to write down all the things you’re grateful for.
Dr. Chloe says, “The trick is finding a practice you can commit to regularly. The concept is to train your brain to identify and appreciate the joy in daily life moments, no matter how significant or insignificant they may seem — everything from milestone life moments…to the simple subtleties of life.”
Try out a few practices and see which one makes you feel the best. It shouldn’t be a chore, it should be an act of release!
If you’re wondering how to get started on journaling, here are some amazing guided gratitude journals.
This journal has prompts for mindful mornings and evenings. It also suggests mindful activities that will help you find things to be grateful for every day. The journal also has monthly reflections, challenges, and other prompts that will help you keep a positive and mindful outlook on life.
Every entry in this journal has a space where you can sum up your day and reflect on the best part of it. It’s perfect for people who have busier lives, but still want to practice gratitude every day.
The Five Minute Journal lets you go more in-depth with your gratitude. The journal asks what you’re grateful for, what would make the day great, daily affirmations, highlights, and what you learned that day.
I already practice morning mindfulness with my daily affirmations, but practicing gratitude is different. Affirmations are about me – they’re centered on who I am and my value to the world. Practicing gratitude, even in the private pages of my notebook, is humbling. It’s all about being grateful for the things I have no control over.
I’m no stranger to gratitude journaling. I used to keep a gratitude journal when I was in one of my darkest stages of life. My therapist suggested I write down everything I was thankful for, from waking up in a bed to eating three meals a day. No matter how big or small, she told me to fill the pages of a journal every day, and I did.
This week, I’m going to go back to the mindset I once had.
There’s something to be said about physically writing down everything you’re thankful for. It takes more effort and more mindfulness to really sit down and think about all the things you’re thankful for.
More than likely, even if you have many things you’re grateful for, you often only think about a few main ones. I always start my prayers with, “Thank you for my partner, my cat, my job…” and then trail off after my ‘top three’ are accounted for. Adding that element of mindfulness and being able to visually see what you’re writing helps you not just repeat the things you’re grateful for over and over again, but to really dive into it.
I felt an instant rush of dopamine the first morning when I sat down to write what I was thankful for. I had my doubts, but even a short time of reflection on what made my heart happy improved my mood, instantly. I decided to start small and just write down five things I was grateful for and I left it at that for the first day.
I decided to go a different route with my second day of gratitude. I began by adding to my list but ended up writing a prayer instead.
Honestly, this was the best thing I could have done for my mental health. I thought back to the study that required one group of participants to write their blessings, while the other wrote down their burdens. I often find myself in the latter group when I pray, even though I start with the best intentions. On this day, I kept my focus on gratitude and began to write my prayer out. I quickly found that with every concern and request, I had a blessing and something to be grateful for to balance it. While I still had worries, I not only saw the silver lining of them but relished and thanked God for them.
Obviously, if you’re not comfortable with it, prayer is not necessary for practicing gratitude, but I found myself unable to stop the prayer, and it lifted my spirits, immensely.
I loved this prompt because, as I said before, I usually list off the top three things I’m grateful for and then forget the rest. But this prompt made me really reflect on the specific person I was grateful for and why I was so grateful for them.
After my meditation, I used my gratitude journal to write down why I was so grateful for the person who came to mind. It was wonderful to get even further in-depth about my feelings and why exactly they came to mind.
I encourage you to do this. It wasn’t a note and they might never see what I wrote, but it helped me take a step back and really see all the wonderful reasons why I love the person and why they showed up in my head. Also, because it wasn’t a note, I was able to get more personal without fear of what they would think.
The next day, I decided to try a 4-2-1 list. This list asks you to write four things you’re grateful for, two people or situations you want to send love and healing to, and one intention for the day.
I love how much mindfulness and awareness are infused in this list while still centering on gratitude. I tried this method and loved it. It was a great way to set an intention for the day with an attitude of gratitude at the forefront of my mind.
The next day, I did a stream of consciousness and wrote down everything I was grateful for. I made sure it didn’t take more than 10 minutes, but it was cathartic and left me feeling wonderful.
When you allow gratitude to flow out of you, it’s impossible not to feel better. And the practice of gratitude turns your tired and messy mornings into something really special where you can reflect and show gratitude.
The next day, I wrote a letter. I’d been putting it off because I had enjoyed the private aspect of journaling. It’s also not natural to write thank-you letters ‘just because.’ I still remember the dread of writing my family letters after any holiday and it was often painful and not the most enjoyable task.
But this letter was different. It wasn’t needed or expected. It also wasn’t for one thing, specifically. I felt awkward at first, but after the first paragraph, I couldn’t keep up with everything I was thinking of. My gratitude poured so easily out onto the page and it came so naturally for me to thank him for everything I so often take for granted.
I would highly encourage you to find the person that means the most to you in your life and write them a letter to tell them how thankful you are to them for doing all of the little and big things in your life. We often get distracted by the everyday hustle and forget to take a moment to just thank our people.
I know the previous study required people to write their letters to those in their lives who didn’t get thanked enough, but I think that could be anyone, if you really think about it.
On the final day, I did a yoga practice that grounded me in gratitude and then I did one last stream of conscious entry in my journal. I loved the yoga practice. My instructor asked the class to set an intention of gratitude and think of three things to be grateful for throughout the practice, and she called those things up to memory throughout. When the class got challenging, she also told the class to be thankful for our strength and to keep going. It set the day off on the right track for me.
I did one final journal entry and just filled half a page with everything I could think of. My spirits were down and the stream of conscious entry helped me get out of my head and into a posture of gratitude.
My life significantly improved because I added the practice of gratitude to it.
I probably won’t dedicate 5-20 minutes every morning to it, but I will take some time out of every week to really reflect on my blessings and write down what I’m thankful for.
If you decide to do this challenge, I encourage you to reflect on who or what is present on every single list you make, and who or what isn’t present. This reflection is also a great way to take stock of the people and things we allow into our lives and to see if they are life-giving or life-sucking.
Practicing gratitude every day isn’t challenging or daunting. It’s showing up for yourself and reflecting on what gives you light in this life, and that’s beautiful.
I’d highly suggest taking up this practice of writing in a gratitude journal as much as you’re comfortable and see where that reflection leads you.
Have you kept a gratitude journal before? Did you like it? Comment below!
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