If you’re just getting into journaling, or have a hard time keeping a positive attitude, start a gratitude practice to increase your happiness. This articles is a step by step guide to starting a gratitude journal so that you can take control of your mind, rewire your thinking patterns, and live a happy life.
Life is hard. Life is busy. Life can get away from us if we let it.
This year my main goal has been to live intentionally: to choose how I spend my time, how I spend my money, and how I feel each and every day.
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I started a gratitude journal after reading Tim Ferris’ Tools of Titans and I found something interesting: regardless of what I actually did in a given day, my happiness depended on whether or not I took a moment to reflect on it.
If I packed the day with family oriented activities — if we visited the zoo, went mountain biking, and had family over for supper — everything could have gone perfectly, but if I didn’t take a moment to acknowledge that, I went to bed just feeling busy and tired.
On the other hand, if the day was a bit boring with errands and chores, but I took a moment at the end to sit down and reflect on the good things that happened, I felt great about it.
This is why having a gratitude journal has been a game changer for me:
Taking the time to notice the good in our days shifts our mindset to perpetually seek out the positive and let go of the negative while creating a continuous state of contentment.
Before we dive in to how you can get started cultivating a mindset of gratitude, let’s talk about what a gratitude journal is not.
Gratitude journaling is not
- A competition of who can come up with the cheesiest sayings
- A competition of who has the prettiest journal or nicest writing
- A marathon writing session eating up a huge chunk of your day
It is simply the action of cultivating positivity by acknowledging the good things in life.
Gratitude journaling has numerous benefits including
- Reducing negative emotions such as frustration, anger and regret
- Increasing happiness and reducing depression
- Improving self esteem and confidence
- Improving sleep quality
- Fostering resilience and improving mental well-being
For 5 minutes a day, those are some pretty amazing benefits.
If you’re seeking more happiness and joy in your day to day life, there are a lot of things you can do to build in meaning and improve your day to day. The simplest, however, is starting to practice gratitude.
So how do you start a gratitude journal?
Step One: Get yourself a gratitude journal
Find a journal that will house your collection of good things in life.
This can be an old Hilroy in the back of your closet from your university days, or a brand new journal you purchased specifically for this purpose.
It’s yours: pick whatever works best for you.
Remember, there is no competition for the prettiest journal. If you’re anything like me you might spend hours analyzing all of the different options on Amazon and not get started for another 2 weeks, so I suggest digging out any journal you can find and just starting.
The benefits come from writing your thoughts down, not from how pretty the cover of the journal is.
Step Two: Pick a time and place to practice your gratitude
Set aside a specific time and place to write in your gratitude journal.
Make a habit of going there at the same time every day.
As with any goal you set, if you don’t visualize the details and commit to a specific time, your chances of following through will dwindle.
For me, journaling is part of my morning routine, and my evening wind down.
In the mornings, I find that it helps start my day on a positive note. Instead of worrying about all of the things that need to get done, I start with good things that I am truly grateful for.
It frames the day in positivity, regardless of what will unfold.
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In the evenings, I find reflecting on the positive helps me sleep at night.
Instead of over analyzing what did or didn’t happen, or what was or wasn’t said, I smile at all of the good and fall asleep right away.
So, pick a time and a place, and leave your journal and pen there all set up for you to come and reflect.
Important note: this can take you 5 minutes or it can take you 25 minutes! Journaling doesn’t have to be a marathon writing session, unless you want it to be.
Step Three: Choose your method of gratitude journaling
There are so many ways to practice gratitude.
You can experiment as much as you want until you find your flow.
If you don’t have a lot of time in the mornings, follow the ‘5 minute journal’ routine from Tools of Titans: jot down 3 things you are grateful for, and 3 things that would make today amazing! Then in the evening, just before you brush your, jot down 3 amazing things that happened today, and 3 things that would have made it better. That’s it!
Here’s a little bit more detail for why these prompts worked so well for me, when I was beginning my gratitude practice.
3 things I am grateful for
This has been a life changer. When I take the time to think about what I am grateful for, it starts me off in a completely different mindset than when my brain goes directly to what I need to get done and what I am worrying about that particular morning.
Sometimes, I’ll catch myself worrying before I’ve even gotten to my journal, so I’ll think of the 3 things I am grateful for while I’m brushing my teeth, and I’m telling you, it does wonders for kicking off your day in a positive way!
3 things that would make today amazing
This one almost always catches me off guard because it forces me to think ‘hmm, when I’m getting in bed tonight, what are the things that will have made the day fantastic?‘ It makes me fast forward to the things that really matter (spending time with family, getting outside, working toward a goal) rather than the tasks that tend to take over (cleaning out the garage, running errands, getting back to people).
This question forces me to determine the outcome I want from this day, and prioritize my to-do list based on that end goal.
3 amazing things that happened today
I love this question because it forces me to stop and realize, on those days that feel pretty average, that I actually had a great day! If I don’t take the time to consciously note the positive things in an average day, I feel very different about how I spent my time.
Plus, this is great for skimming back through and remembering all of the great things your days were filled with!
3 things that would have made it better
I find it helps to get out on paper the things that may have upset you throughout the day (“if only I had done this, if only they hadn’t done that“), it helps to clear your mind of that before you go to sleep.
Also, it is good to note so you can learn from it and try to avoid having that happen the next day. Then your days just keep getting better and better!
What I love most about these questions is that they matter. Numerous studies show the effects of practicing gratitude daily.
Setting outcomes for your days helps you live your days, and your life, the way you want to.
Reflecting on your day and singling out the positive things allows you to cement those memories and the feelings associated with them in your mind. Thinking about how you could have made the day better puts you in the mindset of continuous improvement and helps make each day better than the one before.
Gratitude journaling may have exploded in the media these days, but that doesn’t mean it should be complicated to get started.
With the numerous benefits that starting a gratitude journal has to offer and the number of highly successful individuals that have incorporated it into their daily lives, it is definitely worth giving it a shot.
It is one of the most inexpensive and non time consuming ways to improve your mental health and reap the benefits of a happier life
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What’s your favorite way to practice gratitude? Let me know in the comments below!