Gratitude Journaling for Cynics

A crash course in gratitude with 100 fill-in-the-blank prompts

Photo by Cara Fuller on Unsplash

I’m the kind of Catholic who’s always looking for shortcuts. A few years ago, I reasoned that I could replace my formulaic bedtime prayers with a recitation of things I was grateful for. Thank you for the food I ate and the clothes I wore, I began — like a hungry Barbie, those have always been my top priorities — and I improvised the rest until I got to a list of five. These grateful incantations were far more fun than the Our Father (then again, that’s a low bar), so I stuck with them. Eventually, I graduated to gratitude journaling.

Last week, I was grateful for Michael, who woke up at 6:30 am to help me apply for a German driver’s license. As we chatted on the U-Bahn, the conversation turned to social anxiety stories. Michael confessed that he had a hard time finding good things about the world or himself. Whenever he tried to conjure up something to be grateful for, Michael either came up short or started dwelling on something negative.

My conversation with Michael made me realize that, for many, coming up with a list of things to be grateful for can be daunting. More poignantly, those who have the most to gain by gratitude journaling —the cynical, anxious, or pessimistic — might be least likely to take up the habit, whether out of skepticism or self-doubt.

Drawing on research from UC Berkley and my own experience with gratitude journaling, I put together this guide to gratitude journaling for cynics. This isn’t the only guide to gratitude journaling, but it is the only one that gives you 100 fill-in-the-blank gratitude prompts. Hopefully, these prompts make it easier for you to start being grateful for the little things in life — from functioning kidneys to friends who sacrifice their mornings to help you get a German driver’s license. (Thanks, Michael! 😊)

What is gratitude journaling?

Gratitude journaling is the exercise of focusing on positive aspects of your life by writing down what you’re thankful for.

Honestly, Charlize, it is!

Why should I keep a gratitude journal?

Gratitude is a low-key miracle drug that is completely free and totally street-legal. Side effects include:

  • Increased happiness. 😀 Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
  • Increased self-esteem. 💁🏾 A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athlete’s self-esteem.
  • Better sleep. 😴 Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.
  • Fewer aches and pains. 💪🏽 Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences.

How do I start gratitude journaling?

There are no rules when it comes to gratitude journaling, but there are common practices. These serve as a helpful starting points for new gratitude journalers:

Grab a pen and paper 📝

Don’t overthink this. You can buy a brand-new journal for your words of gratitude, but you don’t have to. Note your gratitude on legal pads, bar napkins, bathroom stalls — whatever. The medium of your gratitude journal should serve mainly to inspire you, not to keep a tidy record of your gratefulness.

  • Or don’t. Research suggests that translating thoughts into concrete language — whether written or oral — has advantages over just thinking the thoughts: It makes us more aware of them, deepening their emotional impact. That said, many people find that the ritual of journaling fosters regular reflection.

Journal three times per week 🗓

According to the Greater Good Center at UC Berkley, gratitude journaling three times per week might have a greater impact on happiness than journaling every day. This might be because we become numb to the effects of gratitude journaling if we journal mindlessly out of habit.

  • Or journal daily. If you’re like me, nothing becomes a habit unless you do it every day. I journal daily just to make sure I stick with it.

Schedule journaling or integrate it into a routine 

If you’re type-A, schedule 10–15 minutes to gratitude journal on your calendar. Alternatively, make journaling part of your morning or evening routine. Personally, I prefer to journal after I brush my teeth and before I go to bed.

  • Or journal spontaneously. Louise Jensen writes on TinyBuddha that, if something particularly great happens, she’ll interrupt her day to jot down an expression of gratitude. This likely encourages Louise to look for things to be grateful for throughout the day, which is the whole point of gratitude journaling.

Write down up to five things you’re grateful for 🖐

It’s easy to think of one thing you’re grateful for and to jot that down without much thought: Check! I’ve gratitude journaled for the day. The problem with one-and-done gratitude journaling is that it doesn’t prompt deeper reflection on your positive experiences — and all the benefits of gratitude journaling come from thoughtful reflection. Aim to write down five things you’re grateful for to ensure that you pause to ponder your lovely life.

OK, then stick with four things you’re grateful for, Josh Hutcherson.

What should I be grateful for?

It’s time. Your Google calendar tells you to sit down and journal for ten minutes. You open up your brand-new Moleskine journal to write down what you’re grateful for. Then, to your shame and horror, you realize that you can’t find a single thing to be grateful for. You feel like a sack of shit. 💩

You aren’t! It’s just hard for the average cynic to cultivate an attitude of gratitude apropos of nothing. I’m here to help. Following the advice of the Greater Good Center at UC Berkley, I created 100 fill-in-the-blank gratitude prompts to help you express gratitude in a way that is specific, detailed, and personal.

Scan through these prompts and start by picking out five that you can fill in without much thought. Most of us will struggle to fill in every blank, and that’s OK. Try working your way through the list at a pace of five prompts a day, one day at a time. In twenty days you’ll have counted 100 reasons that you’re grateful for your body, mind, work, relationships, and more.

Not bad for a cynic, right?

Gratitude for the body

  1. I’m grateful my ______ functions.
  2. I’m grateful my ______ feels better.
  3. I’m grateful for the pleasing shape of my ______.
  4. I’m grateful for my strong ______.
  5. I’m grateful for having the discipline to workout today.
  6. I’m grateful for today’s great ______ (workout).
  7. I’m grateful for my improvements in ______ (workout)
  8. I’m grateful for my sense of ______, which allows me to ______.
  9. I’m grateful for my ability to manage pain.
  10. I’m grateful for my ability to age with grace.

Gratitude for the mind

  1. I’m grateful I didn’t dwell on ______ today.
  2. I’m grateful I noticed ______ today.
  3. I’m grateful for letting myself feel ______ today.
  4. I’m grateful for remembering ______.
  5. I’m grateful that I was able to stay focused on ______.
  6. I’m grateful that I wasn’t distracted by ______ today.
  7. I’m grateful for recognizing thoughts of ______ today.
  8. I’m grateful I had the time and space to meditate for ______ minutes.
  9. I’m grateful for the psychological benefits of my daily gratitude practice.
  10. I’m grateful for my new insight on ______ today.

Gratitude for work

  1. I’m grateful that I stuck with ______ today, instead of giving up.
  2. I’m grateful that I learned ______ on the job today.
  3. I’m grateful that I finished ______ on time.
  4. I’m grateful that I started ______ today.
  5. I’m grateful that I improved ______.
  6. I’m grateful that today I got to work on ______.
  7. I’m grateful that I had the idea to ______.
  8. I’m grateful that I got credit for ______.
  9. I’m grateful that I was asked to work on ______.
  10. I’m grateful that I could leave work early.

Gratitude for entertainment and experiences

  1. I’m grateful that I got try ______ today.
  2. I’m grateful that I got to explore ______ today.
  3. I’m grateful that I learned how to ______ today.
  4. I’m grateful that I learned all about ______ today.
  5. I’m grateful for the new episode of ______.
  6. I’m grateful for the new single from ______.
  7. I’m grateful for the new book by ______.
  8. I’m grateful for ______ because it made me laugh.
  9. I’m grateful for ______ because it made me think.
  10. I’m grateful that I had the time to relax by ______ today.

Gratitude for nature

  1. I’m grateful for the sounds of nature, like the ______ I heard today.
  2. I’m grateful for nature’s wonders, like the ______ I saw today.
  3. I’m grateful for nature’s sweet perfumes, like the ______ I smelled today.
  4. I’m grateful for nature’s fascinating textures, like the feeling of ______.
  5. I’m grateful that I got to spend time outside today while I was ______.
  6. I’m grateful for today’s weather because ______.
  7. I’m grateful that nature’s bounty yields the fresh ______ I had today.
  8. I’m grateful that I live near parks, like ______.
  9. I’m grateful I noticed litter, so I could pick it up and throw it away.
  10. I’m grateful for the company of animals, like ______.

Gratitude for relationships

  1. I’m grateful for my long friendship with ______.
  2. I’m grateful for my new friendship with ______.
  3. I’m grateful that I heard from ______ today.
  4. I’m grateful for my conversation with ______ today.
  5. I’m grateful that ______ was there for me today.
  6. I’m grateful for the love of my ______.
  7. I’m grateful for making amends with ______.
  8. I’m grateful that I could support ______ today.
  9. I’m grateful for meeting ______ for the first time today.
  10. I’m grateful that ______ has helped me meet new people.

Gratitude for possessions

  1. I’m grateful for my ______ because it brings me joy.
  2. I’m grateful for my ______ because it makes life easier.
  3. I’m grateful for the new ______ I bought today.
  4. I’m grateful for the gift of ______ I received today.
  5. I’m grateful for the ______ I found today.
  6. I’m grateful that my ______ is still in good condition.
  7. I’m grateful that I was able to repair ______.
  8. I’m grateful for my freshly cleaned ______.
  9. I’m grateful that I was able to donate my ______ to someone who needs it more.
  10. I’m grateful that I was able to recycle my ______ for reuse in some form.

Gratitude for meeting basic needs

  1. I’m grateful that I got to sleep in today.
  2. I’m grateful for the food I ate today, especially the ______.
  3. I’m grateful for the clothes I wore today, especially my ______.
  4. I’m grateful that I had enough money to buy ______ today.
  5. I’m grateful for my home, and especially my ______, where I feel most at ease.
  6. I’m grateful for the cold drink of water I had at ______ today.
  7. I’m grateful for the hot shower I had today.
  8. I’m grateful that I could clean up after I ______ today.
  9. I’m grateful there was a pharmacy nearby so that I could ______ today.
  10. I’m grateful that I can read, appreciate, and clap for this Medium story. 👏

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