5 Ways to Start Gratitude Journaling—and How to Stick to It

Updated 10/10/18
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For as long as I can remember, I've kept a journal. The process of sitting down and filling a page with my thoughts has always brought me a sense of calm, and in some ways, the habit has connected me to the person I was at 8, 18, and 28. In fact, a longstanding joke in my family is about an entry I wrote in the third grade praising a playground crush that my siblings found—but I'll keep his name a secret.

But journaling has always been something that I've turned to in times of stress or confusion. It's been a vehicle for reflection, of course, but it hasn't necessarily been a means toward fostering gratitude. When it comes to fostering that buzzworthy term in my life, not regularly writing about the things that bring me peace, or happiness, or satisfaction maybe to my detriment.

"Cultivating an 'attitude of gratitude' has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety, and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners," New York Times writer John Tierney found when he did research on the subject back in 2011.

Given all of the benefits that seem intrinsic to this topic, it still isn't hard to understand why the habit of gratitude is tough to build these days. From the stress of our personal lives and the chaos of the world in general, not only can it be a challenge to simply sit and write, but it's also increasingly difficult to find things that spark this feeling.

Nevertheless, it's worth a try. For the past week, I've begun writing a gratitude journal in the hopes that another comforting habit will form from the routine. Here are five simple ways to get started, too, so that there can always be something that brings you contentment.

Find a Journal You're Actually Going to Use

This seems obvious, but it should still be said: You're not going to use something you don't like. Commit to gratitude journaling as a special part of your day, akin to the meticulousness you've devoted to a skincare routine or even the investments you've made to kitchenware.

Since this isn't something that can be effectively done on scraps of paper or Post-it notes, I suggest finding a journal that you're comfortable using on a daily basis. Keep in the same place too, so that it's never hard to find. 

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Start Small

Starting any new routine is tough—do you remember how hard it was to find your groove at a new job? Don't overwhelm your time with this new project, because it will likely end up feeling more like a chore than a freeing mental exercise.

Instead, plan on writing down five things that you're thankful for at the end of each day. That's a small number that can likely be completed in 10 minutes, but studies have shown that its brevity has still made people feel happier and calmer after every exercise. Examples in my journal have been as simple as "Fresh strawberries for breakfast" and "Finishing a good book."

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Notice the Details of Your Day

It's common to be thankful for certain family members and close friends, especially if they did something for you one day, such as helping you move into a new apartment or treating you to lunch. But a gratitude journal can also be an opportunity to notice the tiny but beautiful details you see throughout the day, prompting you to appreciate the slower moments of life.

The other day I went on a walk through my neighborhood at sunset and noticed how a fence was covered in vines that sprouted purple flowers. The flowers complemented the pink sky overhead, and it was a beautiful view. Once you've tuned into those small sights, it's hard not to notice them. 

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Be Alone With Your Thoughts

When was the last time that you sat in complete silence? It may seem like a challenge at first, but there's clarity in that peace—so embrace it. Turn off your phone, quiet any music, and shut off a computer. It'll be easier to connect to your thoughts and feelings without those distractions, and you'll give yourself the space you need to truly feel gratitude for the things you write down.

I've also found that giving myself a few seconds of calm before writing is a good idea, too. Focus on your breathing, clear your head of stress, and turn this into a mindful exercise as well. 

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Let Yourself Be Honest

No one else will read your gratitude journal except for you. So let yourself be open to the process and allow yourself to be honest. Sure, it might be embarrassing to admit that you were grateful to a stranger who helped you pick up your things after you tripped, or you might feel strange about confessing that the way sunlight hit a tree in a certain way made you smile, but all of these little things make up the beauty of your life. As cheesy as it may feel to record them at first, it will also feel good to remember, too.

Joan Didion once wrote, "Memory fades, memory adjusts, memory conforms to what we think we remember," but when you have a gratitude journal, you can cherish even the most minute memories for as long as you please.

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