I have always considered myself a grateful person. Long before I ever even knew what a gratitude journal was, I expressed thanks to others. As an empath and an intuitive by nature, I find it natural to consider the needs of others and express appreciation when someone went out of their way for me. Focusing on the good, even in times when good things were few and far between, and wasn’t something that I gave much thought.
And then I hit a really rough year. A year where nothing seemed to go right.
I won’t bore you with all the details, but I’m sure most have been visited by the black cloud that seems to tag along with loss and pain. The first few storms are easy to weather. But when the days turned into weeks and months, and it starts to feel like this slump is a new existence rather than a passing through, it becomes hard to keep a ‘brave face.’
In my case, I reached out to a friend and asked for advice. “What do I do when things are going so terribly wrong?” was my question. Her response: start writing in a gratitude journal.
If I’m honest, I’ll admit that I cringed at the suggestion. How could I be grateful for terrible things–and more importantly, why would I want to? Against my own judgment, I decided to give it a shot. The next 100 days changed my life, and I’d like to share that experience with you here.
What is the Meaning of Gratitude?
Gratitude is a word that we’ve all heard of, but few can define. Henry Ward Beecher said it is “ the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.” Karl Barth described it in its purest form as ‘joy.’ Aesop saw it as a sign of a noble soul.
Consider that the meaning of ‘gratitude’ is being Googled 135,000 times every month. To me, this says that so many of us want to be more grateful but aren’t really sure how. Here are a few of the ‘Google’ definitions of gratitude/gratefulness:
- Readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness
- Affirmation of goodness that is in the world
- Warmly and deeply thankful for things/experiences received
- Showing or expressing thanks for something welcomed or treasured
In general, looking up definitions is a super boring pursuit, but I had a bit of an AHA! moment when googling gratitude. Here’s what I found:
Gratitude/gratefulness is a unique concept because it can be an adjective, noun, or a verb. It can describe someone’s attitude, a feeling, a state of being, and even a way of life. Gratitude doesn’t always require action, but expressing it can make life a lot brighter.
Henri Frederic Amiel put it this way: “Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.”
So what exactly is gratitude? That’s up to you to decide. My personal concept of gratitude involves focusing thoughts and actions on the here and now while valuing all that I have and showing this appreciation to myself and others.
What is a Gratitude Journal?
Anyone who tells you they are in a constant state of gratitude is one of two things: enlightened or a liar. I don’t classify myself as either, so I’ll let you in on a secret–living in gratitude is a journey that is restarted day by day, moment by moment. One way to keep yourself on track with this is by writing in a gratitude journal every day.
A gratitude journal in its simplest form is just a notebook in which you write all the things you’re thankful for. There are commercially designed ones that have prompts and questions to help you dive deeper into your thoughts and feelings. There are also apps and other ways to document your journey.
I’ve tried them all and found that switching back and forth can help break up the monotony. I recommend that you explore different mediums as well. This will allow you to find one (or some) that you’re most comfortable with.
Gratitude Journal Ideas to Start Today!
Once you’ve picked your poison, you can do a few different things. I actually incorporate gratitude journaling into my morning ritual. When I first wake up, I fill my mind with positive thoughts, bringing in images of all that I’m thankful for.
Sometimes I meditate before I write. Other days, I jump straight into journaling and write down everything that I’m so happy to have in my life at this present moment.
There’s really only one rule: if it’s negative, I don’t write it. And as much as I might be tempted, I try to avoid writing about the future as well. Gratitude mindset is all about staying present in the moment and accepting things just as they are.
Gratitude Journal Example
Here’s an example: I don’t particularly love cold weather, even though I’ve lived in many cold places. One week our hot water heater went out. Of course, it was in the middle of winter. It took a few days to get the piece replaced because of a storm. You’ve probably never appreciated hot water unless you’ve gone without it. This is how contrast works. Even the events that seem horrible can be reframed into appreciation if you’ll take a moment to do so.
Gratitude Journal Templates
You don’t need gratitude journal templates, but they can make things less monotonous. Writing “I’m thankful for” day after day on blank paper can get a little old. So, when I want to spice things up a bit, I usually do a quick Google search of ‘gratitude journal templates.’ The results: so many amazing finds.
One of my all-time favorites is the 90 Day Gratitude Journal by Develop Good Habits. Every day has a different set-up. For example, day 15 asks what you’re grateful for and what you’re looking forward to. It also asks you to describe your favorite room in your house and tell why.
Although this might be a little random, these kinds of questions help you focus on the small things that we take for granted. Because it’s in PDF form, you can print it, hole punch, and stick in a binder and let the writing begin.
Are you not wanting to print a bunch of pages? Try using a coloring book or other pretty paper and creating a bullet journal instead. All you have to do is write numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.) or make a bulleted list and start writing. 5, 10, 15, or 50. The number of things you list is totally up to you. Break out the colorful pens and get grateful. No prep needed.
Gratitude Journal Prompts
Another option for journaling is to use a blank notebook and respond to gratitude journal prompts. The possibilities here are endless, but I’ll list some of the best sentence starters that I found during my 100 days of journaling. Side note–don’t feel pressured to go in order. If a certain prompt doesn’t feel right, move on to the next one.
- What is something that made you smile today? Something that made you laugh?
- What’s your favorite thing about your morning routine?
- Name one person who inspires you. Can you model your life after them in some way?
- What’s a song/movie/book that you love? What lessons can you learn from them?
- Think back on a random act of kindness someone showed you and write about it.
- Write about holidays or special occasions that you are thankful for.
- What’s good about you? Write as many positive things as you can about yourself.
- If you could do one activity every day for the rest of your life, what would it be? Why is this one activity so special/important.
- Name something really good that came from a bad situation.
- Write all the things you love about someone special in your life.
These are just a few of the many prompts that can serve as a starting point for your gratitude journaling.
Gratitude Journal Books
For most of my journey, I used pre-bought gratitude journal books. Why? Because it took the ‘work’ out of it and made the process feel easier/more enjoyable. I wasn’t constantly having to look for journal prompts or print pages.
I’m a book junkie, especially when it comes to those centered on spiritual practices. With that being said, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that I purchased a few different journals. Here are a few best-sellers that are few to fit any budget.
Good Days Start With GratitudeSEE ON AMAZON
This 52-week journal is a wonderful guide for those wanting to go on a year-long gratitude exploration. Each week is similar in that it begins with an inspirational quote, space to write three things you are grateful for each day, as well as a weekly checkpoint.
Although it isn’t something I did personally, I love the idea of buying one for you and a friend or going on a mother/daughter journey together. There is power in numbers and can be a great experience to share with those you love.
Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-ExplorationSEE ON AMAZON
In the past, I’ve been guilty of feeling like I can’t start something until things are just right. Like maybe I can’t start writing an article until it’s totally quiet and the stars are all aligned. Or I can’t clean the house until I get a burst of energy. What usually happens in this situation is procrastination and self-loathing. The ‘Start Where You Are’ journal combats this by allowing you to jump in at any time.
If you’re into aesthetics and are looking for a journal that not only gets you thinking but also pleases the eye, this is definitely your book. The hand lettering and beautiful images compliment the gratitude prompts and make for a wonderful journal.SEE ON AMAZON
I almost didn’t include this one because the title is crass, but I reconsidered for two reasons. First, it’s a really good journal. And the truth is, sometimes life makes you want to cuss.
It might not be the most politically correct journal out there, but it could be a funny gift for some tired woman you know (with a sense of humor, of course.) Or maybe you’re exhausted and want to use it yourself. Either way, this gratitude journal book is not one to miss.
Gratitude Journal Apps
Call me old-school, but when it comes to journaling, I’m a pen and paper kind of girl. With that being said, I’m still able to appreciate gratitude journal apps. If you’re techy, you might want to skip the printing and download one of these top 3 apps instead:
365 Gratitude Journal App
Free to try, the 365 gratitude journal app helps you embrace an ‘attitude of gratitude’ while connecting with thousands of others who are on the same journey. The perks: tons of journal prompts, a virtual gratitude jar to catch memories in, and a global community. Oh, and there’s even a game where you can win points for your positivity! A subscription is $4.99 a month, but they offer a free trial.
Grateful: A Gratitude Journal
This gratitude journal app came highly recommended by a therapist friend who recommends it for patients suffering from depression/anxiety. But you don’t have to be struggling emotionally to make use of Grateful. Like the other app, it offers prompts to guide your gratitude journaling. It also allows you to type right into the app.
So, there’s really no need for anything but your phone if you plan to journal this way. One final thing I love about this app is that it keeps up with past entries and saves them for easy viewing in timeline form. This way, you’ll be able to look back and see your growth.
Reflectly: A Journal for Happiness
Promoted as the world’s first ‘intelligent journal,’ Reflectly artificial intelligence will help you structure and reflect upon your daily thoughts and problems. I see it as a gratitude-attitude adjustment and an AI therapy session rolled all into one.
Not everyone will feel comfortable sharing all of their thoughts with a ‘personal companion’ aka robot journal. But if it sounds interesting to you, take a walk on the ‘tech side’ and download the app today.
I’m so grateful you read the entire article:)
If you’re thinking about starting a gratitude practice of any kind, I hope you’re willing and ready to take the plunge. I definitely don’t regret the time I spent doing the same.
Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Looking back, I’m reminded that ‘enough is a feast’ (Buddhist proverb) and ‘The struggle ends when gratitude begins’ (Neale Donald Walsch). What part of your struggle are you ready to give up with a shift in mindset? I’d love to hear about your personal journaling experience and what you hope to achieve through gratitude journaling.