4 Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal

Plus why being grateful is good for you
woman making a note in her gratitude journal

We’ve all been told to “think positive thoughts” before. And sure, most of us can probably agree that thinking positively far outweighs thinking negatively, but saying and doing are two different things.

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Plus, with the current state of the world in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we could all use a little more positivity and light.

So how do we learn to focus on the good instead of the bad? How do we begin to count our blessings and not our problems?

Enter gratitude journals. Touted by influencers, authors and celebrities, transcribing what you’re grateful for is actually a wellness trend backed by science. Research shows that recognizing and giving thanks for the positive aspects in your life actually has many health benefits. From improved mental health, lower cardiac risk, better sleep and lower levels of inflammation – this habit is definitely worth exploring.

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“Gratitude helps to lift our spirit,” says behavioral health therapist Jane Pernotto Ehrman, MEd, RCHES, ACHT.  “Our spirit includes our sense of connectedness and we feel more connected when we are grateful for something.”

So if you’re looking for ways to feel happier and think more positively – grab a piece of paper, a pen and let’s get writing!

Here are 4 tips for keeping a gratitude journal:

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  1. Write when it works best for you. Some evidence suggest that writing in your gratitude journal right before bed can help you sleep better at night, but it really comes down to what works best for you, says Ehrman. Often times when our head hits the pillow we’re thinking of things we didn’t get done or worrying about what will happen tomorrow. Writing down your blessings before bed can reduce your stress and help you fall asleep because you’ve switched gears to thinking about good things. On the other hand, maybe you find that writing in your gratitude journal first thing in the morning about your previous day starts you off on the right foot. Or perhaps jotting down what you’re thankful for right after lunch energizes you and gives you a boost. Find a time that works for you whenever you’re most likely to do it.
  2. Keep it simple when beginning. Start off with a goal of writing three things in each entry of your gratitude journal. If you’re struggling to list three, start small and keep it simple. It’s the same concept as starting a running program. You don’t just dive in on day one and run 10 miles. Start off dedicating a few minutes each day to the journal. If you find that you’re not keeping up with it daily, try to write every other day or three times a week. And don’t over complicate it. Did you wake up today? Did you have hot water to take a shower? Do you have a roof over your head? Sure you didn’t win the lottery, but if you can get back to the basics, you’ll start to notice all of the little things you take for granted without even noticing.
  3. Start to look for the good throughout your day. It’s difficult to feel uptight when you’re focused on spotting the good things happening around you. Instead of dwelling on the negative, a gratitude journal can help you consciously shift your focus to positive things. Maybe someone let you merge in on the highway instead of blowing right by. Maybe someone complimented you or you felt good about complimenting someone else. Or perhaps you enjoyed a quick walk around the block in the sun. A gratitude journal helps you be more present as you are more aware of the goodness in your life as you are experiencing it.   
  4. The more details, the better. Some people prefer to be very simple when it comes to what they write down in their gratitude journal, but there’s evidence that the more details you can write about a positive experience, the better you’ll remember it. Details are powerful because our mind can’t tell the difference between real time and imaginary time, says Ehrman. You experience the same mind-body response writing out the details as you did living it. Maybe you really enjoyed your cup of coffee this morning. Was it hot or iced? What mug did you use? Where did you sit when you enjoyed it? As you write about the details of a positive experience, you are reliving it. We revisit negative incidents in our head all of the time, why not try to focus on a positive one instead.  

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