How to Write a Gratitude Journal

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How to Write a Gratitude Journal

Keeping a gratitude journal is one easy and simple way to practice gratitude regularly. In this post you’ll learn how to write a gratitude journal and reap the most benefits from it. (I’ve made another post with examples of gratitude lists if you’re looking for inspiration.)

The benefits of a regular gratitude practice are numerous and immense. I could write an entire article on these benefits alone. Instead I’ll just list some of the biggest ones. If you haven’t yet found your motivating “why”, reading about some of these benefits might help you find it.

  • Increased life satisfaction, vitality, hope, and optimism. Decreased levels of depression, anxiety, and envy[2].
  • Fewer symptoms of physical illness, more exercise, and better quality of sleep[2].
  • Improved job satisfaction, especially in a high-stress, demanding job[1].
  • Long-term success in relationships and personal well-being[2], and a reduction of the likelihood of divorce and increase in marital commitment[6].
  • Increased altruism[3], generosity, and healthy social behavior[7].
  • Reduced impatience which favors long-term well-being over immediate gratification (aka better impulse control, less debt, healthier eating, etc.)[8].
  • When the brain feels gratitude, it activates areas responsible for feelings of reward, moral cognition, subjective value judgments, fairness, economic decision-making, and self-reference[7].

Now let’s talk about success tips for how to write a gratitude journal.

Make It a Habit

Habits are one of the few ways to create lasting, impactful change in your life.

The easiest way to create a new habit is to tie into another established habit like a routine. Set yourself up for success by placing the journal in an accessible place that will serve as its own reminder while you’re creating the habit.

For example, if you’d like to practice gratitude in the morning, keep your journal at the breakfast table where you’ll see it, and open it up after you eat. Or if you want to do it before bed, place the journal on your pillow after you get up in the morning. You’ll have to move the journal in order to sleep, and the act of picking it up will make it much more likely that you’ll take 5 minutes to write in it, even if you’re exhausted.

You can also set an alarm as a reminder. Use a unique alarm tone and do your best not to snooze the alarm. If you use the alarm as a cue to immediately go write in your gratitude journal, the habit will become stronger and easier more quickly.

Another way to make it a habit is to create a ritual around it. Find a ritual incorporating things you enjoy and will look forward to. For example, you can make a cup of your favorite tea, play your favorite soothing music, and light a scented candle or some incense. Then write a gratitude journal entry while relaxing in the wonderful environment you created.

If you find yourself struggling to maintain the motivation to keep your new habit, remind yourself why you wanted to keep a gratitude journal in the first place. What benefits are you looking to gain from the practice?

Be Specific

The more specific you are about what you’re grateful for, the more beneficial the practice will be. It’s better to write 5 sentences about one thing you’re grateful for than 1 sentence about five things.

For example, don’t just write that you’re thankful for coffee, or even that you’re thankful for coffee because it helps you feel energized. Write about the specific situation that caused you to feel grateful and elaborate on why:

“I’m grateful for the cup of coffee I drank this morning because it energized me. Without it, I might not have been able to shake off the mild depression I woke up with or engage as well with my client on our call. The coffee helped me get through this stressful Monday, and I’m grateful for it. Plus I added some maple syrup and it tasted so good!”

Feel the Emotion

This ties in with the point above about specificity. When you’re specific about what you’re grateful for and the circumstances around it, you spend more time meditating on it. You’ll naturally feel the emotions more strongly and have a deeper gratitude for it.

This is one of the reasons the physical act of writing is so important – it deepens the emotional impact of the gratitude in comparison with just thinking about what you’re grateful for.

It’s also important to see the thing you’re grateful for as a gift and even associate it with the word “gift”. This is for the same reason that it helps to deepen the emotion. A stronger feeling of gratitude correlates with more benefits that you gain from the practice.

People Over Things

When possible, try to express gratitude for people instead of things. This can help strengthen your bonds with those you love and care about. It can also lead to long-term success in relationships including romantic partnerships.

You can take this a step further if you like by writing a gratitude letter or thank-you note to your friend or loved one. You don’t have to send the letter to experience the benefits of gratitude. But if it’s possible and you feel comfortable doing so, read the letter to them in person or over a video call and/or then give or send them the letter.

Mix It Up

Write about something different every time. Even if you want to express gratitude for the same person or a recurring event, write a different reason that you are grateful.

When you express gratitude for the exact same things over and over again, the practice can start to lose its meaning and its positive effects. Don’t let yourself fall into a rut. When you’re having trouble finding new things to be grateful for, try using gratitude prompts or sentence starters to give you a fresh perspective.

How Often & When to Write

A gratitude journal doesn’t have to be a daily practice like many people believe. Studies have shown benefits journaling three times a week, twice a week, once a week, or daily. The bottom line is that there isn’t necessarily one right way to do it.

Some people find daily journaling can lead to burnout or just going through the motions for the sake of the habit instead of feeling the emotions. So don’t feel like you have to push yourself to do something that becomes a burden. Find what works for you.

There also isn’t a right time of day to write in your journal; writing at different times can have different benefits.

For example, reflecting on what you are grateful for in the morning can give you an extra dose of good feelings to start your day off on a good note. Practicing gratitude at night lets you reflect on your day in a positive way, invites better sleep, and helps diffuse any negative thoughts that you’ve been ruminating on.

As with most things, your practice is unique to you. Try out journaling at different times in your day and find what fulfills you the most.

The most important thing is that once you find the frequency and time of day that work best for you, make it a habit.

How Many Items to Write

Just one is sufficient!

As long as you follow the tips above, especially about being specific and feeling the emotion, expressing gratitude for just one thing is enough to gain the benefits of a gratitude practice.

However, if you’re feeling thankful for multiple things then don’t hesitate to write about them! Many people recommend writing about anywhere from 3-10 items. I’ve said this so much, but experiment and find what works best for you!

Example Journal Entries

Here is one example of an entry that I’ve written in my journal and that you can use as inspiration for your own practice.

If you’re looking for more examples, especially for different lengths of journals and lists, I’ve written another post just on examples of gratitude lists.

“On my run this morning I was overcome with gratitude as I watched people drive by me on their morning commutes. 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. As a freelancer, I’m blessed with a lifestyle that allows me to slow down, take care of myself physically and mentally, and enjoy more time with my dogs and those I care about. I’m truly so grateful that I don’t have to work a regular job anymore.”

Types of Journals

Paper Gratitude Journals

Writing pen to paper is the best way to keep a gratitude journal. You can use any regular ol’ lined (or blank, if you’re adventurous!) notebook that you want. However, there are a bunch of journals geared towards supporting your gratitude practice with inspiring quotes, guided prompts, and thick bound covers that feel nice in your hands. If you think you might want to try out one of those journals, here are some great ones I’ve scouted out. They’ve got various layouts and formats so you can find one to match your unique practice.

Tiny Buddha’s Gratitude Journal
Tiny Buddha’s gratitude journal is comprised entirely of prompts. This is a great journal if you have trouble coming up with new things to be grateful for every time. The prompts help you connect emotionally with the wonderful things in your life. And bonus, there are beautiful illustrations that you can color!

Start With Gratitude
Can I just say that the cover on this journal is gorgeous? But the inside is also very helpful. The journal goes beyond gratitude and offers space and prompts for general reflection on your day and your goals. It allows you to quickly reflect in the morning and evening, but also has lots of space for gratitude journaling along with various prompts to help you reflect on things you’re grateful for.

Gratitude: A Day and Night Reflection Journal
This journal is geared towards twice daily reflection for 90 days. One page each day is dedicated to a morning meditation where you reflect on what you’re grateful for and look forward to positive things. And one page each day is dedicated to an evening reflection where you look back on good things that happened during the day and record your mood that day.

Okay Fine, I’m Grateful!
This journal is as simple as straightforward as it gets! Each page is dedicated to free-form writing about what you’re grateful for that day. There are also full page quotes interspersed throughout the journal to keep you engaged.

The One-Minute Gratitude Journal
This journal is pretty similar to the previous one listed, except it has room for two entries per page, so if you don’t expect to fill a page on most days, this journal is more economical on space.

Daily Gratitude Journal
This is the most compact of the journals with space for 4 gratitude entries on each page. If you tend to be concise and don’t write much, this is a great journal to match your style of expression.

The 3 Minute Gratitude Journal for Kids
If you’ve got kiddos who you want to share a gratitude practice with, this gratitude and mindfulness journal for kids is highly rated and engaging. Studies have shown that children who practice gratitude show less materialism (which has been linked to a variety of mental health problems) and are more generous[11].

Digital Journals & Apps

Personally I prefer to keep a paper journal. Writing by hand and typing on a keyboard are associated with distinct and separate brain patterns. Writing by hand forces you to slow down, allows you to express more ideas, and actually creates a calming effect in the brain that’s similar to meditation[10].

However, I know many of you will prefer going digital, and a digital gratitude journal is definitely better than none at all! So here are a few apps and online resources you might find useful if you prefer digital over analog.

This is a simple, private journal that you can keep on your account. The website also has other features which promote gratitude, mindfulness, and compassion like daily questions and candle lighting.

Thnx4 is designed around gratitude journaling challenges. You can sign up for a 10-Day Intensive or a 21-Day Gratitude Challenge either individually or as part of a group.

iPhone Apps

Gratitude – Happiness Journal
This app is robust with custom reminders, daily quotes, and affirmations in addition to a simple gratitude journal.

Grateful: A Gratitude Journal
Each gratitude entry begins with a prompt, and you can also add your own prompts. The app is simple, easy to use, and the design is clean and beautifully minimal.

My Gratitude Journal
A simple gratitude journal in calendar format with the ability to add photos with each entry.

Android Apps

365 Gratitude
An insanely robust app with social interaction and community, mood tracker, daily gratitude prompts, quotes, gamified with points and achievements, and a gratitude jar for capturing memories.

Gorgeously minimal and well-designed. Has daily reminders, unobtrusive quotes, and is ad-free. If I were to use a digital gratitude journal, this would probably be the one I’d pick.

Gratitude Journal: Habit & Mood Tracker
In addition to guided journaling this app has a mood tracker, habit tracker, and photo upload. It’s got a nice, clean design and a mascot of questionable cuteness.

In Conclusion…

So there you have it! These are all the ways you can set yourself up for a successful gratitude practice where you and your loved ones can reap all the wonderful benefits that come with it.

I have one parting challenge for you before you adventure elsewhere: did you have an experience today that you’re grateful for? Write it down in the comments!

References, Sources, & Further Reading:


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