Gratitude Journaling

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Gratitude takes practice. Our old brain is wired differently than our thinking brain, with a negative bias that helped us to survive by scanning the environment for constant danger. This is why it's still so hard to focus on the positive in our child, practice self compassion and see the positive in our days. But with practice, we can train ourselves to do just that.

Thankfully, researchers in positive psychology have been working on developing and studying ways to  counteract that negative bias for decades now.

Gratitude journaling is one of those great interventions that takes little time but  yields a tremendous benefit

Gratitude practices such as gratitude journaling have been shown to lead to:

  • better coping skills
  • better self-confidence
  • improved symptoms of trauma
  • greater sense of purpose
  • greater focus on your goals

and

  • increased feelings of energy and alertness

To name a few. 


Gratitude Comes at Strange Moments

Most of us have glimpses and moments where we can feel gratitude. These moments are times where you wouldn't expect to. They can happen after a crisis is resolved or a disaster is narrowly avoided. You can feel grateful when you are reminded of a painful experience from your past that you are no longer dealing with.  When a friend loses something dear to them or is going through a difficult experience and you can feel grateful that you  aren't suffering in the same way.

But what if you didn't have to wait for these moments to arise to feel grateful? You can  develop a more grateful outlook on life in general. Studies on the heritability of gratitude indicate that gratitude is more determined by things we have control over then our genes. This is good news.

Gratitude is an area you can work on to cultivate more happiness with fairly easy interventions. Research suggests that people who participate in gratitude journaling are:

Robert Emmons, an authority on gratitude, describes several facets of gratitude. You can monitor and deepen these facets with gratitude interventions, the most famous of which is gratitude journaling. Facets include:

1. The intensity of gratitude- the more you practice growing your gratitude the greater the intensity of your feeling to each experience

2. The frequency of gratitude- the more your practice being grateful, the more often and more easily you will grateful

3. The span of gratitude- the more you practice the greater the number of circumstances you can feel grateful for at any given time.

4. The density of gratitude- the more you practice the greater the number of persons you can feel grateful to


Otherwise 

Jane Kenyon - 1947-1995

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

So what is a gratitude journal?

A gratitude journal is a journal where you write about what you are feeling grateful for. You can do this online or in a notebook. There is no need to do this every day, a few times a week will suffice. The important thing is to begin to train your brain against the negative bias, and to start to cultivate the trait of appreciating what you have been given. Gratitude can also help you to begin to see how we are all interconnected and decrease your sense of isolation, similar to self-compassion. 

Note: It's important not to use gratitude as a way to shame or punish yourself.  I have heard clients who have a negative and self critical voice use gratitude as a way to criticize themselves. They may scold themselves into trying to feel gratitude.

Their self-critical voice may say things such as  "You should be grateful for this, others have less than  you." This is not the purpose of gratitude.

If this is how you are hearing gratitude manifesting, you are tapped in to your self critical voice, and are not developing this helpful skill. 

Gratitude Journaling: Tips

What do I need to know when gratitude journaling?

  • The more specific you are in your journal the greater the effects. It avoids gratitude fatigue and will give you the greatest benefit. 
  • There is evidence that the impact of journaling may be greater if you write less frequently, so you don't need to do it every day! You can do it every other day. 

So instead of writing: "I am grateful for the morning."

Write"I am grateful for the warm rays of the sun and the chance to sit in my garden."

Journal about things that you are grateful for that surprised you


  • Journal about how you are grateful for things that might have never happened.  For example." I am grateful for my husband making me coffee each morning and it could have been otherwise if I hadn't met him on that dating site 20 years ago. "Ponder how things might have not been as good for you had this event not happened. 
  • Think about people you are grateful for, and what you have received from them.

  • Think about people who have helped people you love.
  • Write about negative outcomes you avoided escaped or prevented

  • Write about the opportunities you had on this particular day you are grateful for.

Leave this page for health benefits of gratitude

Gratitude journaling is just one of the many gratitude interventions. Give it a try and see if it doesn't provide a great benefit to your life. 


Gratitude Journaling References

Emmons, R. A. (2013). Gratitude works!: a 21-day program for creating emotional prosperity. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.