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Starting a Gratitude Journal

June 1st, 2020

During our first Patient Education Day webinar, Dr. William Fyre listed four strategies we can use to cope. He offered four strategies including using a coping wheel, writing in a gratitude journal, creating a coping box, and using coping apps. While each of those strategies has its benefits, this article will focus on writing in a gratitude journal.

While studies on gratitude are limited in that they cannot prove cause and effect, they do support a link between gratitude and an individual’s over well-being. Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami published a study on gratitude. In their study, they had participants write a few sentences each week on particular topics. One group wrote about things they were grateful for. Another group wrote about things that irritated them, and the last group wrote about events that happened to them, without an emphasis on how they felt positively or negatively. After 10 weeks, those who wrote about what they were grateful for were more optimistic and felt better about their lives.

What is a gratitude journal? It’s a tool that can help keep track of all the good things in life. Whether life is going smoothly or is overshadowed by gloom, there is usually something to be grateful for. When those moments of uncertainty creep in, a gratitude journal can be used as a reference of things we may have forgotten about or when we need a reminder of what we should appreciate.

According to PositivePsychology.com, gratitude journaling may lower stress levels and can help make someone feel calmer. It may offer a new perspective on what is important and may lead to clarity and more self-awareness. A gratitude journal is personal, so anything that is written down is for your eyes only, which means you will not be judged for anything you write.

To get started, have a plan to write down the things that you are grateful for. This can be done in a journal, diary, notebook, or just a piece of paper. It works the same way on a Word doc or event an app. When you are ready, take a moment to reflect and start to note the things you are grateful for.

Author and host of The Tim Ferris Show podcast, Tim Ferris offers these prompts for gratitude journaling:

  • An old relationship that helped a lot
  • An opportunity you have today
  • Something good/great that happened yesterday
  • Something simple near you

The first category is Relationships. You may think about a teacher who made a difference in your life or maybe a co-worker who inspired you. Reflect on how others see you. What is a perceived weakness of yours that can also be a strength?

The next category is Today’s Opportunities. If you are writing in the morning, write down something you are looking forward to. Name one thing that you can do to make it a good day (that is within your control).

Now focus on Past Opportunities. Did you overcome something in order to get through the day? Did you see something that made you smile? Did you have a meal that you thought was very tasty?

Finally, reflect on the little things around you. What is something you love about the city you live in? Do you have a favorite spot in your home – how does it bring you joy?

When to write in your gratitude journal entry depends on you. You can tackle it first thing in the morning to jump-start your day. On the other hand, reflecting on the day at night may settle your mind as you begin to wind down the day. However you choose, be mindful that you are not just going through the motions. If writing everyday makes a positive impact on your life, then stick with that. If you feel like it’s more of a chore, then try to write only a couple times a week. In fact, research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky found that people who wrote in their gratitude journals once a week (over the course of six) reported that they felt a boost in happiness, compared to those who journalled three times a week who did not.

If you are looking for some journals that will help get you started, consider these options:

  • Tiny Buddha’s Gratitude Journal: Questions, Prompts, and Coloring Pages for a Brighter, Happier Life (about $15-$19) includes prompts such as “I appreciate when I’m feeling down” and “Which freedoms do you take for granted and why are they worth appreciating?”
  • The Joybox Grateful Moment Journal (about $20) is a small and compact notebook designed so it can easily fit inside a purse, backpack, or laptop bag. It combines a daily planner with gratitude journaling by utilizing templates for daily, weekly, and monthly list of priorities to help you keep on track.

If you’re looking for an app you can download to your smart device, try these:

  • Gratitude Journal
    Available on the Apple store/Google Play (free)

    This app is described as a personal journal where you can write about things that you are grateful for. It offers unlimited entries, daily affirmations, quotes, and reminders.
  • Grid Diary
    Available on the Apple store/Google Play (Many of Grid Diary’s features are free to use; there is a $2.49 monthly plan after a 3-day free trial or a $19.99 annual plan, which offers a 14-day free trial).

    This app offers eight-question prompts, such What have I done with my family today?” and “What can I do today to make my future better?” laid out on a one-page grid.
  • Five Minute Journal App
    Available on the Apple Store/Google Play ($4.99)

    This app gives time prompts throughout the day. In the morning, the user will get three questions designed to instill gratitude and purpose for the day. In the evening, the app will ask the user to reflect on the positives that happened throughout the day and what can be improved upon.

This article first appeared in our printed newsletter. If you want to receive your own copy of our newsletter be sure to become a member!

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Date Created: June 1st, 2020
Last Updated: March 17th, 2021