How often do you take the time to notice the beauty of a single breath or the gift of each fresh meal you are granted?
On a daily basis, we encounter numerous blessings both large and small. However, we don’t always grant these blessings the appreciation that they deserve.
One way to enhance appreciation is by starting a gratitude journal.
The purpose of a gratitude journal is to help us become more aware of all the good things in our lives.
There are many benefits of writing a gratitude journal, along with many different ways to do it. But first, what is a gratitude journal anyway?
What Is a Gratitude Journal?
A gratitude journal is a tool that helps us to observe and write down all that we have to be thankful for in our lives.
Typically, it involves a regular practice of putting our appreciative thoughts down on paper.
This is important because the power of a gratitude journal comes when we develop the habit of noting our blessings.
While even a single practice can be transformative, it is the long-term shift in perception that offers the most significant enhancement of wellbeing.
There are many different ways to start writing a gratitude journal, but what any gratitude journal template needs is our clear intention.
In other words, keeping a gratitude journal requires a willingness to open our hearts, minds, and eyes to what we can appreciate in any moment.
Even during times of difficulty, we might discover that there are things we can be grateful for.
The Benefits of Writing a Gratitude Journal
One of the first questions you might run into before you even start writing a gratitude journal is:
Why keep a gratitude journal?
With many different daily practices to consider adopting, what makes gratitude so important?
Studies have found that there is immense power in gratitude practices. One of the main benefits observed is that gratitude writing can improve mental wellbeing.
A potential mechanism for this is that writing about what we are appreciative for can reduce rumination and our tendency to focus on negative thoughts and toxic emotions, such as envy.
Furthermore, studies suggest that gratitude may help to:
- Improve sleep quality
- Enhance relationships
- Improve physical health
- Increase life satisfaction
- Increase happiness
- Increase generosity and prosocial behavior
- Improve the climate in workplaces
Since a gratitude journal is designed to be completed on a regular basis, it can help us to establish gratitude as a way of being.
Rather than simply receiving a temporary boost of feel-good emotions when we practice, gratitude journaling every day can help us to solidify this way of relating to our experience.
Gratitude practice can enhance a sense of contentment with things as they are.
This does not mean that we do not work towards personal growth, achievement, or success; it simply means that we do so from a place of greater acceptance. As Melody Beattie writes:
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
How to Write a Gratitude Journal
If you are wondering how to start a gratitude journal, there are a variety of different gratitude journal ideas you might consider.
For instance, a written gratitude practice might be something you explore for five minutes each morning or it may be something that you come back to numerous times throughout the day.
There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ format to follow as each one of us has unique needs, schedules, and inclinations.
Consider the following steps for how to start a gratitude journal:
Get a journal that you can dedicate to this practice.
Many people find value in a variety of journaling practices. You can certainly explore different techniques during a day, but it is helpful to have a journal that is meant specifically for cultivating appreciation. Other journals might explore your full range of emotions, but let this one be single-focused in its intention.
Take time to consider the best times of day for you to write.
When will you realistically have time each day to write in your gratitude journal? Choose what will work for you rather than what you think is ‘best’. The best practice is the one that you are able to commit to. If this is your first time working with a daily journal, start small and allow your practice to grow from there.
Choose from a variety of gratitude journal prompts.
Once you have an idea of when you will be able to write and for how long, you can choose from a variety of different gratitude journal prompts. Your daily journal practice might focus around a single prompt or it might explore a variety of contemplations. For example, you might simply decide to build a daily gratitude list; or, you might use more focused prompts to direct your awareness.
Establish your daily format.
Next, get clear on what your daily journal format will look like. For instance, is there a particular prompt you will use in the morning? What about at night? Create a clear gratitude journal template that you can use as a guideline each day for the rest of your practice. Be clear on when you will fill this out. For instance, does morning mean immediately upon waking or will you write at the kitchen table before eating breakfast?
Make a plan to journal daily for a set number of days.
Lastly, one common challenge that many people face when they start to write a gratitude journal is a wavering level of commitment. Understandably, on some days we will feel more inspired by the practice than on others. One way to navigate this is to make a plan to journal using the same template for a set number of days. If you are new to journaling, you might start with a 14-day goal, but this can extend for as long as you like. See the gratitude journal troubleshooting tips later in this article for thoughts on what to do if you miss a day.
Gratitude Journal Prompts
There are many different gratitude journal ideas to choose from.
These come in the form of different gratitude journal prompts.
Allow the following prompts to serve as inspiration for your own practice. You can modify these as you wish.
- The moment that you wake up, write down five things you are grateful for.
- Consider a challenge that presented itself today (or this week) that was also an opportunity to learn.
- Write about an inner resource you feel blessed to carry within you today.
- Write down a piece of advice you once received that you are grateful for.
- Describe a chance encounter or a miracle that you have been blessed with.
- Describe a person you are thankful for, noting what it is you admire about them.
- Reflect on a small success of today. Note that this could be as simple as making your bed in the morning.
- List various aspects of your body that you are thankful for.
- Write about a non-human being that you are grateful for today, such as a plant or an animal.
- Write about a freedom you are thankful for.
- Whether it is sunny or stormy outside, explore the gifts of today’s weather.
- Before bed, describe your favorite moment of the day.
You can also simplify your journal by writing a daily gratitude list.
This could be done once, twice, or three times each day.
If you choose to journal in this way, set a goal for it, such as writing down a certain number of things that you are grateful for or writing for a certain length of time.
Gratitude Journal Template
The following is a sample gratitude journal template that you might use as a framework for your daily practice.
It includes an opportunity to write and reflect twice per day – once in the morning and once at night.
Use this template if it suits you, adjusting it in any way to make it suitable for your needs and lifestyle.
Complete this reflection before getting out of bed each morning.
Five things that I am grateful for in this moment are…
Complete this reflection while sitting up in bed before turning out the lights.
One inner resource that supported me today was…
One person, animal, or plant that I am thankful for is…
My favorite moment today was…
Five additional things that I am grateful for in this moment are…
You can use a digital or printed version of this template or write it down by hand in your journal. Use whatever method feels easiest for you.
Gratitude Journal Troubleshooting
When we begin a practice of cultivating gratitude, there are a few different questions and concerns that often arise.
Some of the challenges or questions that you might encounter along the journey include:
What if I am feeling sad or anxious and am unable to access gratitude?
When we feel sad or anxious, such as when we experience loss or stress, gratitude often feels out of reach.
It is important to remember that gratitude is not an invitation to ignore or deny our true feelings.
If we are experiencing intense suffering, gratitude might not be the first practice we turn to.
Do whatever you need to do to care for yourself.
When the emotions soften or pass, start with a small expression of appreciation.
Also, consider that difficult emotions can co-with blessings.
For instance, if you wake up feeling insecure, can you begin by feeling gratitude for the bed supporting you?
Always explore with self-compassion, patience, and curiosity.
What if I miss a day of journaling?
While the goal is to practice gratitude journaling every day, don’t sweat it if you miss a day here or there.
Be compassionate towards yourself, knowing that you do not need to achieve perfection with this.
In fact, you might have been practicing gratitude without having written anything down.
Simply note the missed day and carry on.
If you wish, you could even reflect back upon the day that passed and try to recall little moments of gratitude that you experienced.
What if my daily gratitude list is repetitive?
You do not need to come up with an entirely new list every single day.
In fact, our most important blessings (such as the breath, our body, and the food that we eat) deserve our attention again and again.
With that said, try to broaden your senses to take in more of your environment.
Consider: Is there something I missed yesterday that I can offer my gratitude for today?
There are infinite wonderful things in this world that we can be appreciative of, from the microscopic cells in our body to a single bee that helps to pollinate the world.
Widen your scope each day.
Will gratitude really make a difference in my life?
If you practice gratitude journaling consistently, you will eventually begin to notice a difference in the way you relate to the world around you.
This is because gratitude can change the neural structures in the brain, making it easier to focus on the positive aspects of life.
Gratitude practice can also increase secretion of dopamine and serotonin, two of our ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters.
However, with all of that said, the best way to explore if gratitude can be of service to you is to jump in and try it.
If you are ready to start writing a gratitude journal, take some time to create a plan.
Get a notebook (or print your chosen template) and consider what you want your daily journal routine to look like.
Select your favorite gratitude journal prompts, create a clear outline for each day, and set a goal for yourself.
Begin your practice as soon as you are ready, noting the way your mind opens up from that very first practice.