How to Start (and Keep) a Gratitude Journal - 3 min read

‘Tis (almost) the season to be jolly. But it’s also the actual day to be thankful.

Even if you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, you have many elaborately convincing reasons to be thankful. “An attitude of gratitude” has numerous physical and mental benefits. It leads to better moods, better sleep, less fatigue, and even better cardiac health due to lower levels of inflammation. Gratitude is part of an outlook on life which involves noticing and appreciating the positive aspects, small or big. Gratitude can be attributed to an external source (e.g., a pet), another person or a non-human (e.g., a deity), or anything that stirs up that feeling of thankfulness in you.

Practicing your attitude of gratitude every day improves your social skills and reduces stress. Engaging in deliberate mental training, such as a gratitude journal or introspective meditation over a continuous period has been shown to lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) up to 51%. A study of the practice of keeping a gratitude journal found that people who kept gratitude journals for eight weeks “showed reductions in circulating levels of several important inflammatory biomarkers, as well as an increase in heart rate variability while they wrote”.

What should you be grateful for?

Well, anything, really. A study from 2016 found that people are more likely to feel grateful for experiences rather than things. That is because we feel more excited about the things we have done rather than the things we have – which makes sense. You would probably have an easier time listing five great places you’ve visited in the past three years than five great things you have purchased.

Expressing daily gratitude towards others—a ‘thank you’ to the person who hands you a warm cup of coffee or your partner for picking up groceries—is even a predictor of healthy relationships. You can always find something to be grateful for. A conversation with a good friend, the taste of chocolate, the sound of rain, your health, free education or clean water. As you practice, it will become easy for you to think of new things.

Starting a gratitude journal and keeping it

1. Start with dedicating a book to be your gratitude journal and nothing but that. Spoil yourself here and buy a brand new notebook with nice, quality paper – whatever rocks your analog boat, basically. Also, pick a pen that is comfortable to write with; it’s part of the practice that this is a handwriting exercise.

2. Write down three things you are grateful for.

3. Answer two questions for each of the things:

    • What about it makes you grateful? What does this thing allow you to do or experience, that you couldn’t otherwise? Which aspects of it do you appreciate in particular? Asking yourself this makes you think about why which helps you reflect more about your own purpose and dreams in life.
  • How does that make you feel? Don’t be afraid to pile on the adjectives here, the goal is to evoke those feelings as much as possible. Does it make you feel excited? Bubbly? Courageous? Soak up those feelings as much as possible. An example might look like this: “I am so grateful for my brain because it lets me learn new things and process them into creative, new ideas. It makes me feel so excited, clever, and productive to learn new things”. It’s imperative that you spend a little time on each of the items you feel grateful for, making the description come alive so that you don’t end up listing a bunch of random things in a rush. Even though searching your mind for positive things is a beneficial exercise in itself, really feeling that gratitude for each item will induce that attitude of gratitude. 

4. Do this for 5 minutes every morning or evening. Set a timer, and start writing. If you feel you can write for longer, do it. You don’t have to ever read your gratitude journal – but it might make you happy to do so from time to time.

This practice makes a huge difference to your mental and physical health, and what better day to get started than Thanksgiving?

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