Habit: Keeping a Gratitude Journal

Woman writing in gratitude journal

“… there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it.”  ~ Eleanor H. Porter, “Pollyanna”

Our days are filled with busyness – shopping lists, doctor appointments, mandatory meetings at work, bill paying, scrubbing the floors, cooking dinner…. Sometimes, we feel so put upon, so frazzled, we hardly remember to look at the blue sky, the glistening snow beneath our feet, or the smiles of our loved ones right beside us. It certainly doesn’t occur to us to be grateful for being able to buy and prepare nutritious food or for having floors to scrub.

And, sometimes, it feels as if we have nothing to be thankful for. Sometimes our burdens really are too heavy – chronic illnesses, shaky relations with friends or family, job insecurity, loved ones who are suffering…. It can feel as if there’s no end – and certainly no reason in the world to be thankful. Believe me, I know. I’ve been there.

But, there is something to be thankful for, somewhere. There always is.

Keeping a daily gratitude journal is a breathtakingly simple reminder of the beauty and goodness that exists all around us. When you can hardly bear the crushing weight of your burdens, sitting for a few quiet moments and noticing the good around you – even (or especially) when there seems to be precious little of it – can brighten your outlook and help you to see your situation from other angles.

The Habit

I intend to keep a gratitude journal of the simple joys I come across each day.

Gratitude Journal

How to Keep a Gratitude Journal

  1. Choose a method for journaling.

    Most people decide on a notebook or journal that they feel drawn to want to write in each day. However, there’s no rule that says you have to spend money on the prettiest blank book you can find. You could simply write on loose-leaf paper. In fact, using notebook paper can make writing each night less daunting. I’ve always had trouble writing in a beautiful journal because I’m afraid my pen color or word choice or handwriting won’t be exactly right.

    So, I’ve decided to write in a composition notebook with a handmade cover. Last year, I stumbled upon two beautiful covers made from quilting scraps, and I’ll use one of those. Composition notebooks aren’t elegant, so they’re not intimidating to me, and they’re inexpensive. As soon as I finish one notebook, I can take it out of the cover and slide a new one in.

    gratitude journal covers

    Personalize your journal, if you like. Draw in the margins, cover it with stickers, tape photographs all over it, write inspirational quotes at the tops of pages, or decoupage the cover – whatever it takes to make it uniquely yours.

    Of course, you can also take a more technically savvy approach to your gratitude journal. You could keep a simple electronic list on your computer.  Or, begin a gratitude blog, and frame everything just so. If you enjoy photography, consider photographing the things for which you feel grateful and posting them each night. Or, download a gratitude app (yes, they exist!) so you can jot down moments of gratitude on your phone or tablet as you experience them, wherever you might be.

    Another option is to make a pact with a friend and email each other your daily lists. Studies show that when you share your gratitude with others, your own happiness increases by leaps and bounds.

  2. Decide to be grateful.

    In a way, it’s easier not to be grateful – not to have to search for some reason to be happy in the midst of stress and sorrow. Deciding to be grateful takes more than just a little courage. It’s our natural inclination to wallow in the negative. We all do it. Our minds turn the bad moments over and over and over, replaying them on an endless loop. Breaking that cycle takes determination and patience.

    It’s difficult to notice the mockingbird singing one of its sweet songs or your child humming a new tune when all you can hear are your fears and worries or your growing to do lists. Make a choice to notice. Decide to take a break from negative thinking to recognize the wonders around you.

  3. Turn negative experiences into positive ones.

    Desert Flower - Gratitude

    “People deal too much with the negative, with what is wrong. Why not try to see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom.”
    Thích Nhất Hạnh

    Even weeds are beautiful, if you look closely enough.  Looking closely enough is key.  Imagine a barren, desert landscape.  Now, look more closely and see the blooms of cactus flowers, the patterns on tiny butterflies, the birds, the colors, the warm glow of the sunset on the rocks.  There is beauty, there is goodness, in everything.  Sometimes, it just takes looking deeply in order to find it.

    Let yourself look deeply. When you’re struggling with something, take a few moments to sit quietly with your gratitude journal, and consider what positives might be buried in the situation. They probably won’t be obvious, but that’s okay.  The best silver linings rarely are.

  4. Write.

    For some people, deciding on a certain number of things to be grateful for each day keeps their momentum flowing. For others, it can be a struggle some days to find even one. That’s fine. If you don’t want to set a target goal, don’t. Whether you notice two things or twenty, write them down.

    Also, write as little or as much as you want.  If you like, write beautiful, flowing paragraphs.  Or, simply jot down a short phrase.  In either case, though…

  5. Be specific.

    Child Picking Wildflowers - gratitude

    Of course you’re grateful for your children or your parents or your husband. Of course you’re grateful that you have food to eat. But, it won’t be long before you’ll find yourself repeating these broad categories. Instead, try to be more specific. Perhaps what you’re really grateful for in that moment is that you have a son who brings you wildflowers or that you’ve just eaten the juiciest plum you’ve ever tasted.

  6. Write whenever you like.

    Some people find it’s helpful to write at the same time every day, usually before going to bed. Others like to jot down happy moments as they come. It’s all up to you.

Writing in a gratitude journal takes dedication.  Some days, it’s a struggle to recognize even the largest of joys, not to mention the smaller ones.  Join me in trying out gratitude journaling, and learn to recognize the wonders in your own life.