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How To Keep A Gratitude Journal That Works

Science has recently shown new ways of keeping a gratitude journal can make people happier and healthier.  Read on to learn how to keep a gratitude journal that works.

We All Want Personal Growth

When setting personal life goals, many people list personal growth in their top 10 goals. Most will admit a desire to be happier and more relaxed; more generous and positive. What’s more, these are qualities both men and women look for in a friend or partner.

But some days are easier than others when it comes to maintaining a positive perspective. Have you ever found yourself dwelling on your mistakes? Do you find yourself constantly complaining to friends and family when things go wrong? Have you ever felt powerless to stop a rush of anger or discouragement?

Or maybe you remember a time you had a great day with friends – beautiful weather, good food, a great time all around – until a passing comment drained your enjoyment for the rest of the day, obscuring the prior moments.

Negativity Can Have An Outsized Impact

Sometimes it can feel as though negativity is a natural inner preset, set for fear, fatigue or frustration. There is some truth to that. Studies in neuroscience have shown that the human brain is often hardwired for the negative: The brain’s neurons react far more strongly in reaction to negative cognitive, sensory or motor stimuli than they do for positive ones.*

That’s why we may feel the pain of harsh criticism more strongly than the joy of words of praise. This mindset can significantly impact our behavior, relationships and decision-making in critical areas of life. 

The good news is that we can rewire our brains to see and embrace the positive. This change in perspective can change people’s lives in powerful ways.

Gratitude Changes People

The key: a commitment to gratitude. From a young age, most everyone is told to “Be Thankful.” Everyone knows that thankfulness holds real power for the good. The act of thankfulness can change a person’s perspective, deepen relationships, and promote contentment. Recent studies in various fields of science have documented concrete evidence for these real-life effects. Gratitude has been shown to:

Gratitude Takes Effort

But as we have shown, gratitude does not come naturally; and without some direction, a few scattered thankful thoughts can become fleeting moments, powerless to spark real personal growth.

The Power Of A Gratitude Journal

A gratitude journal is a great way to turn thankful thoughts into an agent of change for your mind, body and spirit. Your gratitude journal is your personal place to pause and look at yourself – reflect on your blessings in life as well as the areas you would like to see change. One of the reasons gratitude journaling has become a tried-and-true method of refreshing one’s mind is the physical act of writing involved. Writing by hand helps you slow down and truly reflect, deepening the emotional force of gratitude in contrast to just thinking about what you are thankful for.

Gratitude Doesn't Take Long

Spending a few minutes a day (or even a couple of moments a week) jotting down grateful thoughts can significantly improve your wellbeing. This can be especially beneficial at key times in your life, such as times of stress, illness or transition, such as a move, a new job, or a new relationship.

While this may sound great, journaling consistently can prove a challenge even to the most disciplined person. But there is a solution! As with almost every personal change in life, the key is this: habit. A habit is a human superpower that frees up your brain capacity while enabling you to boost your overall wellbeing. Committing to habits helps you do hard things more easily. In short, habits reset your ‘natural’ self.

How To Make Journaling A Habit

So what if gratitude became a habit? What if your mind and body became trained to be more resilient and embrace the positive?

The best way to form a new habit is to integrate it with an already existing habit like your morning pour over or the evening news. For example, if you enjoy slow mornings and taking your time with breakfast, keep your journal near the kitchen table so that you can open it up as sip your coffee. If you tend to finish your day with the news, keep your journal near your TV so that you can add a few lines after it’s over. You can also set an alarm on your phone to help remind you to open your journal. Use a unique ring tone so that you’ll instantly know what it is you’re supposed to do!

The next time you feel stuck in a rut of negativity, challenge yourself to a week of gratitude journaling – one entry a day, however much or little you want to write.

Tips For Creating A Successful Gratitude Journal

When people try to ‘practice thankfulness’ many end up burnt out by a repetitive, overwhelming list of things they should be thankful for. The list of things that come to mind can spiral and lead to a sense of frustration instead of gratefulness.  If you have ever experienced this, read on.

New studies have revealed better ways to journal that will leave you feeling more happy and more refreshed. Here are some of the top findings that will help you avoid the ‘gratitude burn-out’ and lead you to lasting contentment:

1. Create A Realistic Committment

A gratitude journal does not have to be a daily commitment like many people think. In fact, research has shown that journaling thoughtfully 2-3 times a week can deliver the same benefits as journaling every day. Additionally, writing more thoughtful entries can have a better effect than writing numerous entries filled with gratitude lists..


This first tip comes with a few nuances. Be intentional about when and how often you choose to write in your journal. When gratitude is forced, it carries far less power to create genuine change in your mood and general wellbeing. At the same time, giving yourself the challenge of making a gratitude list may be an exercise you need to wake you up to what really matters.


Help yourself out by choosing a time and frequency that works for you. For some people, this might mean one entry a day; for others, it might mean one entry a week. It will look different for everyone and that is alright! Jot down a sentence as your morning coffee brews or pull out your journal after you’ve settled into bed for the evening. Whatever you decide, build your gratitude journal into a routine that is sustainable for you.

Anxiety Journal

2. Pick The Method That Works For You

Gratitude journaling will yield the best, most lasting mental and physical benefits when it becomes an ongoing practice. Journaling should be something you look forward to doing, not an obligation you dread. The key to happier days will lie in discovering what rhythm works for you. Don’t be afraid to explore different styles and lengths for your entries. One day you might try bullet points; the next you might write a sprawling story. For a quick start, check out our gratitude journal template for prompt ideas.

If you are the type of person who likes a plan, look at the 2 methods of gratitude journaling below, each with proven benefits, though one will take you deeper in your reflective exercise. Your choice depends on you and your lifestyle. As long as you are committed to gratefulness, both methods have potential for lasting change in your perspective.

Short and sweet. Write 3 things you are thankful for that day or week. Entries in a gratitude journal can be brief: one sentence or even a phrase will suffice. They can vary from  “My morning Iced-coffee” to the “Our family drive down the California coast”. Some entries might focus on the present “Thankful for a good dentist appointment today” to the future “So thankful I’ll see my bestie this weekend.”  Less can be more here, so no need to be exhaustive. Try to make the list reflect how you are genuinely feeling in that specific moment. As you develop this habit, you may find your thinking about this becomes deeper and more reflective.

Some example entries:

“Wednesday night spin. Exhausted. Energized. So glad I went. Feeling fit and free and ready to tackle the world.”

“Love shopping local! I am so glad I bumped into my friend Chris when I went to the paint store. He asked about my work and it was a boost to my spirit.”

“So thankful for Digiorno’s frozen pizza. Specifically the everything flavor with black olives, peppers and pepperoni. So good. We heated it up for dinner as a family and watched How To Train Your Dragon 2 – such a fun and easy night!”

“Feeling thankful for my new Zara sunglasses.”

If you find your journaling still begins to feel robotic, like you’re just going through the motions, take a pause and try this second approach.

Long and deep. Choose just 1 thing from your day or week to write about. Go deeper. Write about why you’re thankful. For instance, don’t simply write that you are thankful for your dog, or even how your dog welcomes you home after work. Write about why you feel thankful for your dog’s welcome: “I am thankful for my dog Coconut because his warm welcome reminds me that he will love me equally today, tomorrow and the next day, no matter what happens in the world or how I do at work. I feel as though I have a friend who is rooting me on in everything I do, no matter how well it goes.”

Some examples:

“Grateful for Aunt Diana’s advice about college. She helped me see that choosing the right major matters less than taking classes that I enjoy and finding good professors who will push me to be curious and wanting to learn. She calmed my  worries about…”

 “Running in the mornings brings me joy and protects my mental health, and it wasn’t  possible for me to do when I worked a 9-5 job. I am thankful for the wooded trails near my house and the escape it brings me from the noise and chaos of my apartment.  There is something in me that really needs time in nature. It also feels so good to be  pushing myself physically. I get such a feeling of satisfaction that I motivated myself to  get out the door and do something active.”

This second method helps you get to the ways you are wired and what you really appreciate in life.

3. Focus On The Details

Writing the details adds color to your entry. How did the breeze feel as you watched the  summer sunset? What tasted so great at lunch on that winery trip with the girls? What was the funniest thing said during that conversation with your family last night? Elaborating in detail makes your thoughts come to life and sparks satisfaction and joy as you write – and reread!

4. Choose A Positive Interaction

When they look back on their day or week, some people do not know when or where to start writing. If this is you, choosing a positive interaction from your day can help focus your attention and bring a specific moment to mind. Recall an interaction with a person, place or thing that made you smile. Did you meet the cutest dog on your walk? Did you notice the first bloom on your sweet pea vine? Maybe farmstand tomatoes made your BLT the best of the year.

5. Pick A Person

Relatedly, pick a person and think about what you admire about them. What do you enjoy about them? What do you notice about yourself when you’re with them? What are some happy memories you have together? How have they impacted your life?

Gratitude Becomes Your New Natural

Aristotle once said, “Excellence is not an act, but a habit.” The same can be said of thankfulness. Over time, you’ll find you are genuinely thankful, more often. This is because habits physically reshape the structure and conductibility of the brain. By keeping a simple gratitude journal that works with your lifestyle, you enable your brain to refocus on the positive in life. The more you fill your mind with things you are thankful for, the more you feel a deep sense of contentment and peace.

Give yourself the freedom to explore the practice of gratitude on your own terms, and you’ll be surprised by the change. Better yet, embark on this journey with others. Take turns filling in the journal together as a family at dinner time. Challenge a friend to start a gratitude journal with you and share what comes to mind. Whether gratitude journaling is a group effort or a solo mission, you’ll be investing in your well-being and your future happiness with each thankful thought.

We are capable of rewiring our minds in amazing ways that improve our energy, choices, behaviors and activities. “If we all did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.” – Thomas Edison. Open yourself to the possibility of being astounded and order a journal for gratitude today.