Keeping A Gratitude Journal

It’s easy to take the good things and people in our lives for granted, but research suggests that consciously giving thanks for them can have profound effects on our well-being and relationships. Keeping a gratitude journal helps you develop a greater appreciation for the good in your life. In fact, people who routinely express gratitude enjoy better health and greater happiness.

While it’s important to analyze and learn from bad events, sometimes we can think too much about what goes wrong and not enough about what goes right in our lives. A gratitude journal forces ourselves to pay attention to the good things in life we might otherwise take for granted. In that way, we start to become more attuned to the everyday sources of pleasure around us—and the emotional tone of our life can shift in profound ways. What’s more, actually writing about these events is key: Research suggests translating thoughts into concrete language makes us more aware of them, deepening their emotional impact.

There’s no wrong way to keep a gratitude journal, but here are some general instructions as you get started. Studies suggest that writing in a gratitude journal three times per week might actually have a greater impact on our happiness than journaling every day, so try it for 15 minutes per day, at least once per week for at least two weeks and seehow it goes.

 

Write down up to five things for which you feel grateful. The physical recording of it is important so don’t just do this exercise in your head. The things you list can be relatively small in importance (“The tasty sandwich I had for lunch today”) or relatively large (“My sister gave birth to a healthy baby girl”). The goal of the exercise is to remember a good event, experience, person, or thing in your life—then enjoy the good emotions that come with it.

 

As you write, here are some important tips:

  • Be as specific as possible—specificity is key to fostering gratitude. “I’m grateful that my co-workers brought me soup when I was sick on Thursday” will be more effective than “I’m grateful for my co-workers.”

  • Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular person or thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.

  • Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.

  • Try subtraction, not just addition. Consider what your life would be like without certain people or things, rather than just tallying up all the good stuff. Be grateful for the negative outcomes you avoided, escaped, prevented, or turned into something positive— try not to take that good fortune for granted.

  • See good things as “gifts.” Thinking of the good things in your life as gifts guards against taking them for granted. Try to relish and savor the gifts you’ve received.

  • Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.

  • Revise if you repeat. Writing about some of the same people and things is OK, but zero in on a different aspect in detail.

  • Write regularly. Whether you write every other day or once a week, commit to a regular time to journal, then honour that commitment. But…

  • Don’t overdo it. Evidence suggests writing occasionally (1-3 times per week) is more beneficial than daily journaling. That might be because we adapt to positive events and can soon become numb to them—that’s why it helps to savour

Write A Gratitude Letter

Feeling gratitude can improve our health and happiness, while expressing gratitude can also strengthen our relationships. Sometimes our expressions of thanks can be fleeting and superficial. This exercise encourages you to express gratitude in a thoughtful, deliberate way by writing—and, ideally, delivering—a letter of gratitude to a person you have never properly thanked. 

The letter affirms positive things in your life and reminds you how others have cared for you. Visiting the giver allows you to strengthen your connection with them and remember how others value you as an individual. Here's how you do it:

Call to mind someone who did something for you for which you are extremely grateful but to whom you never expressed your deep gratitude. This could be a relative, a friend, a teacher, or colleague. Try to pick someone who is still alive, that could meet you face-to-face in the next week. It may be most helpful to select a person or act that you haven’t thought about for a while —something that isn’t always on your mind.

 

Now, write a letter to one of these people, guided by the following steps.

  • Write as though you are addressing this person directly (“Dear ______”).

  • Don’t worry about perfect grammar or spelling.

  • Describe in specific terms what this person did, why you are grateful to this person, and how this person’s behavior affected your life. Try to be as concrete as possible.

  • Describe what you are doing in your life now and how you often remember his or her efforts.

  • Try to keep your letter to roughly one page (~300 words).

 

Next, you should try if at all possible to deliver your letter in person, following these steps:

  • Plan a visit with the recipient. Let that person know you’d like to see him or her and have something special to share, but don’t reveal the exact purpose of the meeting.

  • When you meet, let the person know that you are grateful to them and would like to read a letter expressing your gratitude; ask that he or she refrain from interrupting until you’re done.

  • Take your time reading the letter. While you read, pay attention to his or her reaction as well as your own.

  • After you have read the letter, be receptive to his or her reaction and discuss your feelings together.

  • Remember to give the letter to the person when you leave.

 

If physical distance keeps you from making a visit, you may choose to arrange a phone or video chat.

© 2020 by Theresa Cawley