I’ve written before about the power of gratitude. Today I thought I’d go into a little more detail on how to start a gratitude journal, and why it’s a good idea. Too busy to read now? Pin me for later!
WHY should you start a gratitude journal?
Research suggests that people who practice gratitude are healthier, both mentally and physically than those who don’t.
Yes, it sounds weird, but it’s powerful stuff.
A gratitude practice isn’t about shutting out the crap in your life. It’s about choosing to turn towards the good, even when life feels like hard work.
Choosing to start a gratitude journal is making a commitment to look for the good things in life.
Some days, maybe all you can find to feel grateful for is the fact that you have clean running water and a roof over your head. Those might feel like little things. They’re not though, not really. Water, food, shelter, those are the big things. They’re the ultimate, most important things. They’re right at the bottom of the hierarchy of needs.
It’s easy to lose sight of that.
When life feels overwhelming, and things aren’t going the way we planned, it’s easy to focus on all the things we don’t have, and on our struggles.
When you start a gratitude journal, you shift your focus, even if only for a small part of each day, to things that are good.
My children play a game in the car where they have to be the first to shout ‘yellow car’ and hit one another every time they see a yellow car. You wouldn’t think there were that many yellow cars around, but once you start looking for them, you notice them everywhere. Try it.
Gratitude is like that.
Once you choose gratitude, you’ll start noticing more things to feel grateful for. Just like yellow cars, there are more of them than you think.
It’s got to be a good thing if it helps you find more stuff to love about your life, right?
How To Start A Gratitude Journal
A gratitude practice can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.
If this is unfamiliar territory for you, start small. You don’t need to buy a special notebook for the job (but you absolutely can – looking for an excuse to buy a new journal? Go right ahead and tell everyone I told you to).
If you use a diary or planner already then that’s a great place to start your gratitude habit. Each evening, when you check in and tick things off your to-do list, take a moment to write down a couple of things you’re grateful for. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it doesn’t have to take a long time, and they don’t need to be earth-shattering things. Just do it.
Write something down.
Do it again tomorrow.
And the next day.
Consistency is key in building any habit, and starting with something super-small helps increase your chances of success.
Taking It Up A Notch
If you’ve experimented with adding a tiny gratitude habit to your life, and liked the results, then why not take it to the next level?
I’m a self-confessed stationery junkie, and I need no excuse to buy a beautiful new notebook.
You don’t need a fancy notebook to use as a gratitude journal, but I think there’s a value in choosing something really beautiful that you’ll love writing in. I use a traveller’s notebook to keep all my journals together, because I like to carry them around with me. (Note: when you reach the stage of having to spend ages choosing a handbag in order to find one that fits a chunky, overfilled traveller’s notebook, it might be time to admit that you have a problem).
I love using these Moleskine Cahiers as inserts in my traveller’s notebook. I’ve got a bit of a thing about squared paper, so these are perfect for me. I like the fact that they don’t take up too much space, and they use nice-quality paper (important to me because I love my fountain pens). There’s also something very satisfying about having a notebook that’s slim enough to fill reasonably quickly. I love starting a new journal, but hate abandoning a half-finished one – Moleskine Cahiers are perfect for my short attention span.
How To Use Your Gratitude Journal
Once you’ve decided to start a gratitude journal, and have found the perfect notebook, what do you actually do with it?
Again, it’s up to you. You can pick any of the following approaches, or mix them up, or just make up your own gratitude ritual. The perfect way to add gratitude to your life is the way that you’re most likely to stick to. Try something, if it works, keep it, if not, try something new.
A Simple Gratitude List
Much like the tiny habit we started with, a gratitude list is just a list of things you feel grateful for.
Some days those things might feel earth-shatteringly amazing, some days they’ll feel mundane and unimportant.
That doesn’t matter. What matters is the process, the act of looking for things to feel grateful for, and giving your attention to them.
Sometimes I like to challenge myself (because I’m a sucker for an unbroken streak when it comes to habits) to add ten things to my gratitude list every day for a month. Sometimes I just use it in an ad hoc way, noting things down as they come to me, or when I find myself with a few moments spare.
Supercharge Your Gratitude
The gratitude list is more about quantity than quality – it’s about writing lots of things down in a brief format.
Another option is to go deep into just one area. This can be really powerful in shifting your feelings about difficult situations.
Maybe you want to start a gratitude journal because you feel like you don’t have much to be grateful for? If that’s the case, then this tactic might work for you.
The idea is to choose a situation, and devote some time to journalling about all the positive aspects of that situation.
Maybe you’ve been looking around your house and feeling miserable about all the improvements you can’t afford to make, or feeling resentful about the mess your family make. When you catch yourself in that kind of negative spiral, that’s the time to break out your gratitude journal.
With the house situation, you’d write down everything you can think of that’s good about your home. Maybe you’re grateful to have enough bedrooms for everyone to have their own room? Or you love having outdoor space to grow things. The key is to ignore all the things you don’t like, and focus on finding everything possible to appreciate.
The more things you find to appreciate, the more things you’ll find to appreciate. We’re back to the yellow car thing again.
If writing isn’t your thing, you could try a more visual approach. Keep track of all the awesomeness in your life by creating a scrapbook or art journal. Stick in photographs or ticket stubs, and remember to appreciate the small stuff as well. This is a great place to keep those random photos you take on your phone, you know, the ones of ordinary-but-happy days. They’re the photos that never get printed out, but you had a reason for taking them, so why not keep them somewhere you can appreciate them.
Ready Made Gratitude Journals
If all that sounds a bit overwhelming, maybe a ready-made solution would be better for you? There are a few different options for people looking for an easier way to start a gratitude journal. This one gives you prompts to guide you through 100 days of gratitude.
A ready-made gratitude journal takes away that element of always writing about the same old things, by encouraging you to focus on different aspects of your life, or think about things in different ways.
You can even help your children learn how to start a gratitude journal with the Five a Day Thank You Journal that takes a creative approach to encourage appreciation and gratitude in kids.
I’ll confess that I don’t tend to keep my old journals. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll regret that, but mostly I think I value the space more than I would value holding onto the information. So, I tend to shred or burn my notebooks once I’m done with them.
It’s nice, though, to look back sometimes.
There will be days when it’s hard to find things to write in your gratitude journal. Days when it feels like everything is going wrong, and the whole idea of shifting your focus to something positive, just seems faintly ridiculous. Those are the days when it’s useful to look back into your gratitude archive, and just remember some of the good things. Maybe it will spark off some ideas for things to add to today’s entry, but if not, it doesn’t matter. Just rereading your past gratitudes will help you get into a better frame of mind.
Ready to Get Grateful?
If you’re feeling inspired to start a gratitude journal, then it makes sense to jump in right now. You don’t need a fancy journal, you don’t need the perfect pen, or a beautifully artistic gratitude spread in your bullet journal.
All you need is something to write with, and something to write on. Actually, you could probably manage without those too, since just thinking about things you’re grateful for is a powerful practice. There’s something about writing things down, though, that strengthens the connections in your brain, makes things more real.
If you’re looking to buy a specific notebook to use as a gratitude journal, then here’s a quick list of some of my favourites.
Ready Made Gratitude Journals
- Happy: The Journal: A chance to write joy into every day and let go of perfect – by Fearne Cotton. I love Fearne Cotton’s work to bring mental health out into the open. This journal goes along with her book, Happy: Finding joy in every day and letting go of perfect. You can work with the journal without buying the book, but I do recommend getting the book as well.
- Gratitude Journal: 5 Minutes A Day For Greater Happiness – by Janice Walker. This one’s not just a gratitude journal, it’s also a resource for helping you set goals and reach them.
- Gratitude Journal: 365 Days Of Gratefulness – by Keep Track Books. I think this one is great if you’re starting out. It’s cheap and cheerful, and comes in a range of different cover designs – I like the peacock feathers.
Notebooks To Make Your Own Gratitude Journal
- Scribbles That Matter – this is what I’m using as my main bullet journal at the moment, and I’ve been enjoying filling all the edges up with gratitude at the end of the day. Probably a bit too big to be just a gratitude journal, but that depends on how you’re planning to use it.
- Moleskine Cahiers – my current gratitude journal is in one of these. I’ve got about five of them in my traveller’s notebook, all for different things. I know I could keep everything in my main bullet journal, but this way works better for me. I’ve always got a stack of new cahiers in my office, ready to be pressed into action.
- Happy Jackson: Little Book of Awesome – this one lives in my bag. Actually, the two above live in my bag too, generally, but if they’re ever not there, I have this fun little journal to remind me to keep track of the awesomeness in my life.
My Favourite Pens
Don’t let anyone, least of all me, tell you that you need a fancy pen, or a special journal to start your gratitude habit. You don’t. Pens are fun though, and really nice pens are even more fun.
- Rotring Art Pen – I don’t do art really, but I do love this pen. I use beautiful bottled ink, and it writes really nicely.
- Uniball Eye Fine – these are the ones I buy in bulk so that I’m never without them. I have several lurking in my bag, spares tucked into my traveller’s notebook, in case of fountain pen disasters. Lovely smooth writing.
- This is my absolute favourite, the Sheaffer Prelude Rainbow, and I’m very sad to see that it’s no longer available. Sharing the link with you anyway though, because this is the place I bought mine from, and they sell lots of beautiful pens.
Start A Gratitude Journal Now
Did you read right to the end? Yay! Well done!
I’d love you to start your gratitude habit today – right now. Use whatever you have to hand, and just write down one thing. Starting is always the hard part, so get started now – don’t wait for the perfect supplies or the perfect moment.