I used to think keeping a gratitude journal was easy.
I had this little workflow setup through Launch Center Pro on my iPhone which asked me different questions at the end of each day. My answers were then sent to Day One and saved there forever.
Those answers always ended up being repetitive and monotonous. I’d rarely dive into descriptive thoughts or feelings, instead opting to just finish the end-of-day quiz and get to sleep.
Of all the journaling habits I’ve developed, gratitude journaling became the most boring and fell by the wayside.
Research suggests I made a mistake.
Gratitude journaling has a wide range of benefits. It improves sleep, improves your sense of wellbeing, and improves your willingness to accept change and disruptive events in your life. For me personally, gratitude journaling has also improved my spirituality.
And, most importantly, gratitude journaling surely improves positivity and an outlook for the future.
Getting back into gratitude journaling required some research. Along the way, these five tips jumped out as fundamental cornerstones to keeping a gratitude journal.
Let’s jump in.
1. Be descriptive, personal, and positive: Gratitude journaling works best when you genuinely dive into that which you are grateful for. Like authors describe all the functions of a scene in a storybook, so too should you when describing your gratefulness.
Focusing on people and your relationship with them also brings about a better sense of satisfaction. Sure, we are all grateful for some things, but it’s usually the people in our lives who have the greatest impact. Focus on people and move from there.
And of course, gratitude journaling isn’t going to improve your positivity if you’re not actually positive in your writing. Science has shown it’s easier to remember negative events than positive events, so this could be the most difficult step of all. As Lisa Shoreland states over at Positively Present:
Help really transform your thoughts by finding the positive side of negative situations. Instead of dwelling on things that are not working out — maybe a failed relationship, or financial hardships, or health problems — try to find a positive in those situations.
2. Don’t go through the motions and don’t overdo it: I let my gratitude journal slip by the wayside the first time around thanks to a repetitive sense of going through the motions.
More research: Sonja Lyubomirsky’s research suggests writing less in your gratitude journal (but still under some sort of structure or schedule) leads to more happiness than writing more often in your gratitude journal. I feel like this has been effective in my journaling as well — I feel happier and more grateful when I explicitly choose to journal about gratitude. Anecdotal at best, but I can attest to it.
3. Employ Tim Ferriss’ gratitude journal methods: Tim Ferriss is well known for his bestselling books and life coach lessons, but his approach to keeping a gratitude journal is one of the best. Ferriss focuses on four categories to ensure gratitude journaling keeps its splendor.
1. Focus on relationships
2. Focus on opportunities
3. Focus on great events
4. Focus on simple things
I find a particular impact when focusing on opportunities and great or important life events, but each of these categories could have a different impact on you. Relationships, again, are the most impactful aspects of most of our lives, while opportunities keep inspiration flowing into our lives to trigger great events.
Overall, Tim’s categories appear to flow from start to finish to help you recognize a greater process.
4. Use surprises as gratitude journal triggers: This is an easy one. Whenever something important, surprising, or memorable works its way into your life, you can use the event as a trigger to jump into your gratitude journal. When these events happen, it’s easy to describe what happened, how it happened, why it happened, and your reaction to the result.
I think this can improve your happiness, sense of self-satisfaction, and sense of self-realization, but it can also help develop successful habits. If there is an underlying pattern to the surprising and memorable events in your life, journaling will help recognize that pattern.
Plus, journaling triggers make journaling too easy.
The structure of the journal is simple: be grateful in the morning and reflect at the end of the day. The Five-Minute Journal has three simple tasks each morning. First, you recognize three things you are grateful for. Second, you visualize three things that would make the upcoming day great. And third, you complete two different personal affirmations. Then, at the end of the day, you can unwind by reflecting on the great events of the day.
Overall, the structure is simple. But the structure leads to starting each day on a positive note and ending each day with a smile on your face.
I’ve found grateful moments occur around important life events — both good and bad life events — and around family events. I’ve used these types of events to trigger gratitude journal writing, but I’ve still found it difficult to create a habit without any sort of trigger.
Fortunately, actually being grateful doesn’t require writing it down. You can recognize your own gratefulness in a conversation with your spouse or friend, or you can express it through prayer. Journaling is only one avenue for improving gratitude and happiness.
Although, journaling may be the most effective avenue.