How to Start and Keep a Gratitude Journal


February 2022

Halloween is over and what exciting holiday is coming next??? If you said Christmas, this blog is for you.

Fact: Thanksgiving is soon and it comes before Christmas.

I feel bad for Thanksgiving because it often seems glanced over. I’m definitely guilty of premature caroling. Sure, we love to engage in gluttony when it’s most acceptable, but I feel like Thanksgiving is often reduced to just that: gorging on food. And then the day after we’re supposed to have reflected on our blessings, we shop for more and more and MORE on Black Friday. While the spirit of Thanksgiving is overlooked, I also think thankfulness, in general, has become more of a mechanical reaction than a thoughtful response.

Gratitude needs to be learned and practiced like any skill. One of the best ways to get better at being a thankful person is by keeping a gratitude journal. Follow these helpful steps and tips to start and keep a gratitude journal: 

1. Start with the WHY

In order to find the motivation you need to start and successfully keep your gratitude journal, you need to reflect on its purpose and your goal. Going through the motions of writing in a gratitude journal is the same as the mechanical “thank you” I talked about before. Think about what the journal will do for you and how it will benefit you and even those around you. Our CEO, Nick, said it best when talking about Red Door’s value of Gratitude over Entitlement, saying, “The secret to being happy is just to be grateful.” If you can’t think of a different WHY, start with the benefit and goal of deep and genuine joy.

2. Pick a journal

This is very straightforward but slightly nuanced according to personal preference. A good way to start is by considering whether you want to handwrite your thoughts or type them. You can keep digital records on your laptop or phone, or written ones in a nicely bound journal. Think about what works for you. Another thing to consider is when and where you’ll be writing. If you want to jot down notes throughout the day, you might want a small portable journal (or you can use your phone). You can even carry around a pocket-sized notebook to later transfer your thoughts into your larger gratitude journal. Whatever you choose, I think it’s a great idea to start with something new and blank so that your journal is fully dedicated to gratitude.

3. Plan a time

In your busy schedule, you’ll need to set aside dedicated time to be consistent with your journaling. But you don’t need to dive in with daily journaling. Start small if it works better for you and journal once a week at a specific time. I know some people who love to journal while having breakfast and others that enjoy this meditation before they go to sleep. Again, choose what works for you but be meaningful in your consistency. To keep the journal going strong, you’ll want to make it into a habit and not a chore. If it starts to feel like a chore, remember Step One.

4. Be aware

Stop and smell the roses. It’s simple as that. You need to make a conscious effort to heighten your awareness and thoughtfulness when you encounter the blessings and challenges that overflow each day. This is your source material for the next step.

5. Fill the pages

The basics of gratitude journaling include writing about what you felt grateful for that same day. However, even just writing about the day can feel like a struggle sometimes. People often talk about writer’s block and then they get stuck staring at a blank page. I had a writing professor who didn’t believe in writer’s block. “If you have thoughts, then you have words,” he’d say. But if you’re like me and you have a major mind filter that doesn’t let you write down your exact thoughts when you want to write, here are some gratitude journal prompts to help you get going. If, during one journaling session, words completely elude you then try doodling. There are no rules! Meditate on the present, smile back on the past, and look forward to the future while you fill your journal. Take time to not only think about the happy events but also the trials that challenge you and make you stronger.

6. Reflect

It’s not enough to just write something down one day and never look at it again. Writing notes during a class lecture doesn’t do you any good if you don’t read them back to study for the test. You want to reflect on your gratitude while you write about it and reread your entries. Not only will the memories put a smile on your face, but you’ll also be able to reflect on the growth and transformation of your mentality and your happiness. Remember that you started by considering the purpose and goal of your gratitude journal. Every once in a while, check in with yourself to see if and how you’re achieving that goal. If you don’t see a change you might need (Step 2) a different journaling technique, (Step 3) a better-suited schedule, (Step 4) a stronger effort in awareness, or (Step 5) a fresh way to fill the pages.

Whatever you do with your gratitude journal, remember that it’s most important to do it purposefully and meaningfully. There’s no benefit in careless and automated lists of, “Today I’m grateful for this and this and that.” Give yourself the time to elaborate on those thoughts. Bask in the details, not only writing about what you’re thankful for but why it made you feel thankful. And always remember WHO to be grateful towards and be sure to express that gratitude off the page as well.

If you don’t already have a gratitude journal, I challenge you to start one today. Begin with a small goal of keeping it up until Thanksgiving and share some thoughts with your friends or family at your Thanksgiving feast if you’re up to it. If the journal is working for you until then, keep it going!

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