Want to start a gratitude journal? Here's some help to get you started. I've put together a list of tips for getting the most out of keeping a gratitude journal. At the heart of any gratitude journal lies the conscious intention to boost happiness and find a way to gently nudge your brain to seek out the positives in life. In my work as a CBT therapist in Bath, I often discuss this with clients, because it is a good way of becoming aware of the moments which bring us joy. This kind of habit can help to lift us up when we're feeling down. There's an old African proverb which states, "Give thanks for a little, and you will find a lot." All you've got to do is start, and discover what gratitude will bring to you.
What to write?
To begin, it's the simplest thing. You don't need anything more than a pencil and a simple notebook which you can keep for the purpose. Next, take a little time to reflect and find something which you are grateful for over the past few days. Let your mind take time to seek out meaningful moments, however fleeting, with whatever, wherever, whomever that may be for you. The practice of gratitude becomes even more valuable if we can note not only what, but also how and why our object of gratitude is meaningful to us. If you can take time to remember how you savoured that experience, you can recapture some of those positive feelings as you write.
At times, we may have to seek hard to find even small things, while other days may offer more. And, we can come to notice that often the unexpected moments are what make a real difference. An experience you are grateful for can be as straightforward a pleasure as watching or listening to a bird in the garden, watching the passing clouds in the sky, feeling a touch from a friend, listening to a favourite piece of music, or a tasting a favourite flavour... any moment which feels precious to you. A simple example might be: "I was grateful today for seeing the sunlight on the river. It was calm and peaceful reminded me of summer days and enjoying a picnic outdoors."
When to write?
Choose any time when you can sit quietly and reflect. Sometimes things will come quickly to you, other times not and that's okay - just allow yourself these moments and don't rush. Many people find it rewarding to write their gratitude journal in the evening, as it can be a comforting way to close the day before going to bed.
While you might like to write in a gratitude journal every day, research has shown that this isn't necessary. In fact, some evidence points to occasional journaling (a couple of times per week) bringing greater benefits than a daily list. I say: experiment, and find what works for you. Certainly, if you turn this into a 'must-do' rather than a 'like to' this becomes another task on the to do list, which of course is no way to begin! So, take heart that once or twice a week is enough.
Creative gratitude: gratitude jar, scrapbooking and photo journaling
The simplest journal is nothing more than a basic notepad which you keep for the purpose. But if you're more of a tactile or visual person, you could consider a gratitude jar which you can put on display. Not only will this serve as a visual reminder to remember to do your gratitude practice, but you can also dip into it at random at a later date, and read through some happy memories.
To make a gratitude jar, get a screw top jar, decorate it in any way you like (paint it, add a ribbon or a label – make it special) and write down things you are grateful for on slips of paper, fold and place in the jar. It can be fun to see how they mount up over time. Some of my clients with young families have had children who want to get in on the act, so it can even be a fun joint activity, particularly with little ones who might like their own jar to decorate.
Alternatively you could try out a gratitude scrapbook. You don't have to write words, you could stick in photos, tickets, restaurant receipts, anything which reminds you of a good experience. Over time you're keeping a record of what gives you pleasure and builds meaning and positivity to your life.
Gratitude on the go
Another way to keep track of 'gratitude on the go' is to put your phone to positive use. Snap photos of your gratitude moments and create a visual reference to look back at. You could create a collage or moodboard over time to display in real life.
If the idea of high-tech gratitude appeals, there are even apps to keep track of your moments of pleasure.
Once you're in the habit of keeping a gratitude journal, you might like to take your gratitude to the next level. Active gratitude involves finding real ways to express your gratitude to others, which means taking gratitude from our private world out into the real world. This involves finding ways to let others know what they mean to us through deliberate action to express our positive thoughts and gratitude. Options include sending a handwritten note, a bunch of flowers, a hug. It doesn't matter how, but expressing thanks, love and kindness in the way that feels right for us brings big benefits. Expressing gratitude builds up our relationships with others. And, not only do we feel good when appreciating another person, but the other person feels happy and valued too - win-win!
Best of luck with your efforts and I hope you can find some creative ways to give a little thanks for the everyday things.