Mental health is becoming more and more mainstream and that is fantastic! It is so important to make sure you are feeling great inside before you are able to serve others and be the best version of yourself! One of the things that have really helped me with my mental health is a gratitude journal.
Gratitude journals come in many different shapes and sizes but it is basically the intentional practice of thinking about all the things that you are grateful for.
I know this may be a weird time to be letting out a post on gratitude but it is something that everyone should be adding into their daily routine. I know, many people think about what they are grateful for around the holidays but why not start now!
There are many benefits to practicing gratitude daily with a journal. There’s just something about writing things down that makes it so much more impactful.
I don’t know about you but I know I have a much easier time retaining information if I actually put in the effort of writing it down.
But if you’re wondering why you should add this into your already busy routine, here are some of the benefits:
- Improves Self-Esteem
- Better Sleep
- Increases Happiness
- Lower Stress Levels
- Increases Clarity
- Improves Relationships
… and that is just some of them! I’ve personally experienced all of the above benefits.
Robert Emmons, one of the leading experts in the science of gratitude shares these tips for benefiting from a gratitude journal.
- Go For depth – it shouldn’t be a superficial list of things you’re grateful for like my family, friends, and a house. Instead, be specific about why you’re grateful for these things. Why are you thankful for your family or friends? Get into the nitty-gritty.
- Get Personal – focusing on people versus things has a bigger impact. This makes sense since our loved ones are easily more important than superficial things.
- Try subtraction, not just addition — what would your life be like if you didn’t have these things we take for granted?
- Savor surprises — Things that catch you off guard tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude. When someone surprises you, it can bring feelings of happiness which can make the event more memorable.
- Don’t overdo it — if you force yourself to think of 20 things to be grateful for then it may turn into more of a chore than a list of things that you’re actually grateful for. Don’t force yourself to think of a ridiculous amount of things. Instead, aim for a realistic number for you.
As Emmons states, practicing gratitude adds value to something rather than just the initial positive emotion. Once we add value to it, we can appreciate the benefit it brings into our lives.
He also mentions that if you are grateful, you cannot be envious of something or someone. I think this is interesting especially in a world where it is so easy for us to compare ourselves to others.
With social media constantly projecting everyone’s best version of their lives, it is hard not to compare your non-filtered life to that. This makes practicing gratitude more important now than ever before so we can find the good in our daily lives. If you’re grateful for what you have, you won’t feel as jealous when you see people posting on social media.
But hey, we’re human so if someone is in Bali and you’re working, I get that it’s hard not to feel a little jealous. Hopefully though, if you’re practicing gratitude, you’re grateful for all the things happening in your life so it won’t sting as much.
How do I start?
Forming a new habit can be hard but here are some ways to start a gratitude journal routine.
1. Choosing the Right Gratitude Journal
Do you want a journal solely focused on gratitude or is it going to be apart of your daily planner?
Is your ideal journal’s pages lined or unlined? Do you want to draw or write what you’re grateful for?
This is going to be personal to you so you’ll have to decide how you want to show gratitude. After all, this should be something that you enjoy daily so pick whatever calls to you.
I have this daily planner which I love that has a daily space for what I am grateful for. I try to write three things I’m grateful for from the day before. I’m a little old fashion in that I prefer to write it down on paper versus going into an app daily. I honestly tried a few apps and they weren’t quite what I was looking for … the free versions at least. I didn’t want to pay for something that I could easily write down on paper. But if your life is on your phone, an app may work better for you.
Since my gratitude journal is a planner and a gratitude journal combined, one of the things I like is that it includes a space for you to recap your week as well. Especially since the daily spot is small. In the ‘this week’s review’ section, it has a place to list your three big wins. I like this because I write three things I’m grateful for daily and then I get to reflect on what my big wins were for that week. It’s a good way to look back on the small things I was grateful for that week that I would have otherwise forgotten about if I wasn’t doing this exercise.
So it is something to consider when deciding how you want to format your gratitude practice.
2. Make it a Habit
Once it’s a habit, it’ll no longer feel like a chore. I do it in the morning when I’m setting my goals for the day. It’s a great way for me to reflect on yesterday and find three things that made me smile. It was beneficial for me to habit stack this new habit with my old habit of checking my daily planner and setting goals. (Atomic Habits anyone? If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend this book by James Clear).
Now, if journaling every day isn’t realistic for you, that’s okay! The important thing is that you stay consistent. Decide whether you’ll practice gratitude daily, biweekly, weekly — the choice is yours!
3. Don’t hurry through it like another thing on your to-do list
If you aren’t intentional about the things you are writing about, you are just wasting your time. Just writing that you are grateful for friends and family isn’t going to open your eyes to the other things in your life that are so great. We live in a society where we take a lot for granted. I am definitely a culprit of this as well. Write down reasons why your friends and family are so great instead of just naming the person.
Being intentional isn’t always easy because we all have our bad days but I promise you that it does get easier the more you do it. Also, don’t write down something that you are not actually grateful for in your life. That’s just cheating yourself.
“When it comes to gratitude, the dividends are in the details” – Marie Forleo@marieforleo
4. What to write about
As I said before, I write about three things I’m grateful for from the day before. This is what works best for me but it’s very personal to you. It’s a way for me to really think about three things that made yesterday good since sometimes this is hard. But if you are stuck staring at a blank page overwhelmed, trust me I know the feeling, here are some things to write about:
Be intentional, think outside the box
I wouldn’t just write down some arbitrary things that everyone is thankful for like Robert Emmons said … friends, family, and home. I would focus on the why. Did a friend do something that made you smile? Maybe it was just being able to spend time with your loved ones. If you nail down the why you’ll reap the benefits much more.
Don’t feel like you have to do what I do in your gratitude practice especially if you aren’t doing it daily. If you choose to practice gratitude weekly, you could just think of that week’s wins, or follow some daily or weekly prompts. Prompts are actually a great way to force you to think about specific things that you are grateful for that you may otherwise take for granted.
There are also a lot of gratitude challenges out there that you could follow to get you started.
I know there are still some things that I take for granted and sometimes thinking of three things I’m grateful for is hard.
It isn’t beneficial to write the same thing over and over again in most cases. Maybe it is if you’re trying to remind yourself that you are grateful for those people or things. But in general, forcing yourself to think of different things is going to open your eyes to all the good things in your life. Obviously, some of the things are going to repeat but if you’re specific about why you are grateful about that person or thing today, it could vary slightly.
That’s why I like to find three things I’m grateful about from the day before. Sometimes, I have crappy days. It’s really hard to find THREE things I liked about that crappy day but that is what is so great about gratitude journals. You begin to realize what you take for granted.
For example, just last week I was sitting in my warm apartment trying to think of three things I’m thankful for from a very mediocre day prior. Then I realized, there are hundreds of people in Texas right now that don’t have power. They are literally melting ice to flush their toilets.
So even on a mediocre day, I realized I had a lot to be thankful for. I had a mediocre day because where I live they were able to plow the snow and the electricity never went out. I didn’t have to worry about flushing my toilet or being warm that day.
The more you practice gratitude, you begin to see these changes in your mindset
It’s crazy. There are so many things I took for granted that I now catch myself being grateful for in my life.
I’ve definitely seen an improvement in my mental health and feeling more optimistic about my life.
And if journaling isn’t really your thing, there are many different ways to practice gratitude. Check out this article for more ways to practice gratitude.
When it all comes down to it, practicing gratitude is personal to you. I know I’m sounding like a broken record with that statement but it’s true! You’ll have to find what works best for you. If gratitude journals aren’t your thing, that’s okay but I encourage you to take some time every day to intentionally think of the things you are grateful for in your life.
Let me know in the comments below how you practice (or plan to practice) gratitude in your daily life. What gratitude journal are you using?
Until Next Time,