How to Better Your Life with a Gratitude Journal
“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”
― Maya Angelou (Tweet This)
Gratitude is a powerful emotion that can transform your life and open up incredible opportunities for love, joy, and success.
It shifts your perspective and helps you always find the good in every moment. People who practice gratitude are predominantly happy and easygoing. They always see the positive in negative situations.
But it’s often when we need gratitude the most that it’s difficult to find. When you’re overcome with grief, sadness, anxiety, or anger, it’s hard to see what’s going right in your life. To ensure you experience the benefits of gratitude when you need it the most, get in the habit of keeping a gratitude journal.
In this article, we’ll explain the benefits of gratitude and why it’s such a powerful force. We’ll also walk you through the steps of creating a gratitude journal, and give you advice on developing good habits to maintain journal writing.
The (Many) Benefits of a Gratitude Journal
Complicated problems need complicated answers, right?
When intense, painful situations arise, it’s illogical to think there’ll be a simple solution. This line of thinking often prevents us from accepting answers that could solve our problems.
Gratitude is a simple solution to complicated problems. The simple act of practicing gratitude can bring joy, hope, and light to the darkest of times.
Look for positive aspects of any situation, no matter how grave the outlook.
Life is balanced by negatives and positives. Your focus on a certain situation will shape your attitude.
Recall inspiring stories of personal loss that touched your heart, but created enlightening beauty out of the pain. The everyday heroes of those stories found hope and happiness through gratitude. It wasn’t a fluke.
David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk who focuses his work on the benefits of gratitude, said in his 2013 Ted Talk:
What is the connection between happiness and gratefulness?Many people would say, well, that’s very easy. When you are happy, you are grateful. But think again. Is it really the happy people that are grateful? We all know quite a number of people who have everything that it would take to be happy, and they are not happy, because they want something else or they want more of the same. And we all know people who have lots of misfortune, misfortune that we ourselves would not want to have, and they are deeply happy. They radiate happiness. You are surprised. Why? Because they are grateful. So it is not happiness that makes us grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes us happy.
The greatest benefit of gratitude is happiness — which of course is the one thing we’re all seeking to gain. We make most of our life choices with the aim of achieving eventual happiness. Most people would sacrifice everything to find happiness.
Simply put, happiness is the biggest motivator for all the decisions we make.
Here’s a few typical, though misguided, aspirations:
- If I find true love, I’ll be happy.
- If I am successful in my career, I’ll be happy.
- If I’m healthy, I’ll be happy.
Happiness isn’t found in things. It is gratitude for what we have that creates happiness. Following the Law of Attraction, more happiness will gravitate toward those individuals who are already happy.
Gratitude doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Aiming for goals that aren’t met can make it difficult to pause and feel grateful for what you already have.
But here’s the great news about gratitude: It gets easier with practice, and the perfect way to practice is to start a gratitude journal.
5 Easy Steps to Creating a Gratitude Journal Ritual
Creating a gratitude journal is pretty easy. Buy a blank notebook and write down a few things you’re grateful for each night before you go to bed.
If this minimalist solution works for you, go for it. But if you need a different approach, we’ll walk you through the most effective ways to start a gratitude journal. (You can find beautiful gratitude journal templates here, here, and here.)
Step 1: Select Your Journal with Care
Make the ritual of gratitude journaling as fun as possible.
Pick out a journal that visually stimulates you or decorate an ordinary, inexpensive notebook with cherished pictures of people and things you love (your children, pets, inspirational words, or images).
Get creative and have fun personalizing your gratitude journal. You are more likely to maintain the nightly habit of journaling if you love the look of your journal.
Not feeling particularly creative?
Make your journal selection a special, rewarding experience. Go to a store that carries a variety of journals, or search online and treat yourself to a journal that inspires you. Gift yourself with a gratitude journal that you’ll love to look at every night.
Step 2: Create a Ritual
Even before you begin writing in your gratitude journal, choose a ritual to repeat. Consistency is the key here. Rituals install a call to action for our mind, body, and spirit by our muscle memory. Rituals create habits.
A few “ritual” suggestions are:
- Lighting a candle
- Playing a favorite song
- Drinking a cup of tea
- Taking a relaxing bath
- Saying a calming prayer
- Chanting a meditation
Anything you decide to do is a great way to let your mind and body know that it’s time to focus on gratitude. Whatever you choose as a ritual, do it consistently. It strengthens the ability to turn action into habit, and it’s usually fun and relaxing.
Step 3: Express Your Gratitude
Gratitude journals can take on any desired format. Some journalers make a gratitude list of items to express gratitude — others draw images or create a collage of pictures. Some write poetry to capture and motivate their gratitude.
Expressing your gratitude is very personal and totally up to you.
Feel the gratitude as you write about it.
Even at the end of a terrible day, try to think of at least one good thing that happened that you can be grateful for, no matter how slight. Forget everything else, and for a moment, write about that one, good life event and why you feel grateful for it.
Gratitude Journal Ideas — What to Be Grateful For
- Your Family
- Your Health (or the Absence of Pain)
- Your Sense of Sight
- Your Oldest Friends
- Your Sweet Memories
- Your Education
- Your Work
- The Ocean
- Cooling Rain
Step 4: Celebrate Quality
Our minds respond better to quality over quantity. One grateful, full paragraph can outweigh a list of 50 items. The emotion of gratitude is difficult to connect with a long list.
Dive deep into your gratitude journal — even about minor topics — to help you reinforce gratitude in your life. Observe from within as your body and mind get used to experiencing gratitude. The deeper you feel gratitude, the easier sensing gratitude becomes.
Step 5: Bookend Your Day
Regular, nightly writing in a gratitude journal is important because it closes your day on a high note. It empowers the feeling in your mind and helps you infuse the thoughts into your spirit. This cue to your subconscious uses dreams to understand the feelings you associate with those thoughts.
Celebrate a positive attitude for the start of your day by re-reading your gratitude journal entry in the morning. It is a double-ended bonus!
Maintain the Habit of a Gratitude Journal
Follow our outlined steps to get you into the habit of writing in your gratitude journal. Positive reinforcement and repeating your gratitude journal habits can keep you motivated. Journaling habits are a matter of personal choice.
Based on personality type, here are three methods to stay motivated enough to develop a habit.
Method 1: Keep a Daily Gratitude Journal
For many, daily repetition is the only way to reinforce a habit. If you are the type of person that gets a thrill out of achieving goals, this is a good method for you.
Set your alarm every night and make a commitment to write in your gratitude journal before you go to bed.
Method 2: Write at Least Once a Week
For others, daily record-keeping is so overwhelming that the goal is soon given up altogether.
If you abandon your New Year’s resolutions by February, then daily journal writing may be too much for you. That’s totally okay! Gratitude journals are effective, not because you do them everyday, but because you get your mind and body accustomed to expressing gratitude.
Set a goal to write in your journal once a week. Set an alarm for Saturday or Sunday and if you still haven’t written in your gratitude journal that week, go ahead and do it that night. Most people fall into this category, so don’t beat yourself up about only writing once a week.
Method 3: Reward Yourself Every Time You Write
For some, an immediate reward is key to sustaining a daily journal (or anything). Simple self-sleuthing may uncover that your only long-term habits are those that provide instant gratification. Don’t blame your brain chemistry.
The good news is that starting a habit is easy. Select your motivating reward and give it to yourself on a short- or long-term schedule that makes sense to you.
Design your personalized ritual by following the steps outlined and by choosing a method to maintain the habit. You’ll start a valuable ritual for one of the best things you’ve ever done for yourself and your family. Gratitude creates happiness, and who could really ask for more?