We’re all obsessed with the quest to find ways to improve our mental wellbeing and improve our overall quality of life. This is especially true on the days where there is a dark cloud hanging over our heads that we want to clear away.
So, what if I told you there was an easy way to improve your mental health without having to spend hours a day meditating or spending £1000’s on courses and other material?
No, it’s not a pipe dream; it’s GRATITUDE!
In this comprehensive guide, we will provide you with all the tools you need to get started on your gratitude journaling journey so that you can begin to cultivate the benefits throughout your life.
What does gratitude mean?
Put simply; gratitude is the art of being thankful for what you have in your life.
It is easy to see the bad things happening in your life, especially when you’re feeling stressed or down. Unfortunately, over time, this can become a habit to only focus on those negative aspects of your life, causing them to become all-encompassing and feeding your stress and negative feelings. In essence, we lock ourselves into a negative cycle that keeps itself running around the clock.
The antidote to this negative thought cycle is to inject the daily practice of gratitude into your life. When you take time out of your day to concentrate on the good things in your life, you allow your brain to reset and refocus on the positives in your life. In turn, this fosters a mentality of abundance and hope.
Gratitude and mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present and aware of both yourself and your surroundings. There are many ways to practice mindfulness, including meditation, yoga, mindful eating, and art therapy.
In order to add gratitude reflection into your life, it requires an element of mindfulness to be able to focus on the good things in your life without allowing your emotions to manipulate your thoughts.
Mindfulness also teaches us not to fight our thoughts but rather to choose which thoughts we focus our energy and attention on.
This is an important element of gratitude journaling. Gratitude practice isn’t about convincing yourself that everything in your life is incredible or ignoring the fact that there may be negative thoughts or situations occurring. Instead, it’s about choosing to focus on the positive aspects of your life while letting the more painful parts simply drift past without interacting with them.
Nine powerful ways gratitude can improve your life
For such a simple premise, practising gratitude comes with a multitude of life benefits that will help you make positive changes in your life.
1. Gratitude can help your relationships
Practising gratitude can help you to form and maintain the relationships in your life, be it romantic, family, friends, colleagues….
That’s because gratitude will help you to focus on the good traits the other person has as well as remind you of the amazing experiences you have had together. It also allows you to put into perspective small arguments you might have and helps you to gain perspective on what truly matters in your relationship.
2. Gratitude decreases your loneliness
Ever heard the phrase “I can be surrounded by a sea of people and still feel all alone”? Loneliness can be crushing, and it’s a feeling people can experience despite having relationships with other humans.
By practising gratitude, you will feel less lonely and more able to appreciate the people around you. In addition, you’ll learn not to take the situations you find yourself in for granted and feel more empowered to engage with your environment instead of isolating yourself.
3. Gratitude improves life satisfaction
Scientists have found strong correlations between gratitude and experiencing a higher level of life satisfaction. And the reason for this is simple. Gratitude encourages you to focus your energy and attention on the things that make you happy rather than the things that bring you down.
And so, naturally, the increased focus on happiness will make your life feel better than if you didn’t focus on the good. And the best part is, nothing in your life has changed; it’s just your focus. So you’ll realise your life was happier than you thought all along!
4. Gratitude boosts your self-esteem
When we focus on the negative aspects of our life, we might feel like we are failing. And more often than not, we tend to blame ourselves for it. So it’s no wonder a lot of us suffer with our self-esteem.
It therefore also makes sense that by practising gratitude, our self-esteem will improve dramatically. This is because as we learn to appreciate all the good things in our lives, we feel better about ourselves and the situation we are in.
5. Gratitude improves your physical health
Our physical and mental health is equally important. So you will be happy to know that gratitude practice will improve your physical health.
Specifically, the daily habit of gratitude practice will lower your heart rate, reduce your blood pressure, and increase the quality of your sleep. This all comes as a direct result of gratitude lowering stress levels.
6. Gratitude increases your ability for empathy and compassionate love
Society has become increasingly self-absorbed in their own problems, and some people lose sight of other people’s problems and pain. Gratitude helps improve empathy by helping you be more present in your day-to-day life and recognise the nuances in situations.
As a result of this heightened empathy, practising gratitude allows you to express love more compassionately.
7. Gratitude boosts your resilience
Gratitude enables you to build your resilience to tough situations by reminding yourself that there are still positives you can take away despite feeling stressed and trapped. Even if there are no positives in the situation, there are positives in other aspects of your life that you can focus on instead.
This is especially helpful for managing work environments and teams.
8. Gratitude can help to alleviate PTSD symptoms
Researchers have found gratitude to be a helpful tool when recovering from PTSD. Several studies on war veterans and those who have experienced traumatic events to measure the effectiveness of gratitude as a form of therapy and found it to alleviate PTSD symptoms when practised regularly.
9. Gratitude can reduce anxiety and depression
Thanks to its link with mindfulness, gratitude can help reduce anxiety and depression symptoms. Anxiety and depression cause sufferers to focus on either the past or future on negative thoughts that stir painful memories or worries of what is to come.
By practising gratitude, you are able to focus on the present and the good things happening in your life.
Why should you start a gratitude journal?
Journaling is a brilliant way to keep track of your thoughts. So it makes sense that using a journal for your gratitude journey is the way to go.
Firstly, you’ll have a place to keep all your thankfulness in one place, which you can look back on when you are feeling particularly down or struggling to come up with something to be thankful for.
Secondly, gratitude only works when it's practised daily, as a habit. Habits can be difficult to create, so having a dedicated journal can help you create a journaling ritual which in turn can become a solid daily habit.
Journaling will also help you to workshop your thoughts, enabling you to see situations in a new light that you couldn’t when the thought was still stuck in your head.
Finally, using a journal will allow you to turn your gratitude reflection into a creative outlet that stimulates your brain, providing even more benefits.
Gratitude Journaling 101: Before you start…
Before we talk about how to set up your gratitude journal, you need to get the fundamentals in place. That is, you need to choose your instruments. So let’s have a quick look at the essentials and a few bonus items you might want to add to your journal kit.
1. Your journal
It seems obvious, but you can’t start a journal if you don’t have one! This is going to be the notebook you use every day, so you need to make sure it’s a notebook you are going to enjoy writing in.
More than just the way it looks (as this can be customised with stickers, etc.), you want to think about the layout of the journal. Do you prefer plain, lined, squared, or dotted paper? Do you like big or small gaps between the lines/dots?
You also want to consider the thickness and quality of the paper. While it is not essential to have thick, high-quality paper to start, the better the paper, the wider the array of pens you can use, and the more durable your journal will be.
2. Writing instruments
You might read that and think, “writing instruments?! That’s just a fancy name for a pen!” And in a way, you are right. But you don’t have to use a pen if you don’t want to. Pencil, ballpen, fountain pen, calligraphy pen, crayons, felt-tips, glitter pens, and gel pens. There are so many things you can write with, so choose your favourite and assign it to exclusive journal duty. This will help you make your journaling a habit.
3. Washi tape
Time for some fun extras. Washi tape can help you individualise your pages and are a quick way to add colour and structure to your journal pages. You can find some cheap options online.
If you are worried about your writing skills or want to add illustrations when you can’t draw very well, consider investing in some stencils to add your own mark on your journal pages.
Finally, stickers are an excellent way to personalise your journal inside and out. You can also use them to help convey your feelings when words aren’t enough.
How to set up your gratitude journal: Page ideas
Now that we know why we need gratitude in our lives and we have the basics, we’re ready to get started. So let’s look at some gratitude page ideas filled with examples of how you can use them in your own journal.
Five things I am thankful for today
Every day, take five minutes in the morning or evening to write down three to five things you are thankful for.
In doing so, you make a purposeful effort to start or finish your day choosing to focus your energy on positive aspects of your life. This will then positively shift your mentality and give you the resilience you need to face any stress you may encounter throughout the day.
It can be hard to think of things to be thankful for. We can put a lot of pressure on ourselves to think of deep, life-changing elements to be grateful for and forget to appreciate the small things in life. After all, it doesn’t matter the size; everything is worthy of being thankful for.
With that said, here are some gratitude statements to get your mind churning. They are all generic, so if you do use them, remember to personalise them to your own life and get specific.
Examples for gratitude by topic:
Family and friends
- I am thankful for my parents’ support
- I am thankful for my partner saying good morning to me
- I am grateful for having a coffee with my friend today
- I am thankful for the hug my partner/friend/family member gave me
- I am grateful my loved ones are in good health
- I am thankful I have the energy to get out of bed today
- I am thankful that I can go to the gym
- I am thankful that I am able to access the doctor fairly easily
- I am grateful that I have access to the medication I need
- I am grateful for my therapy session
Food and Shelter
- I am thankful that I have access to clean, running water
- I am thankful that I am able to eat nutritious food
- I am grateful that I have a roof over my shoulders
- I am grateful that I have a home to keep me warm this winter
- I am grateful that I have a bed to sleep in
- I am thankful to be employed
- I am thankful I get to do a job I love
- I am thankful for my colleague
- I am grateful that I was able to make a difference with my work yesterday
- I am grateful to be able to develop my skills
The world around us
- I am thankful for the clean air I breathe
- I am thankful for the green spaces in my area
- I am grateful for the opportunity to travel and discover new cultures
- I am grateful for the recycling bins outside my house
- I am grateful I learned five new words in a different language today
Gratitude in photos
Sometimes words aren’t enough to express our gratitude. But most of us carry smartphones around with us every day. And what do smartphones have? Cameras!
Add your personal touch by taking pictures of the things that make you happy every day and printing your favourites to stick into your journal. You could use a normal printer or a special mini photo printer for smartphones like the HP sprocket.
If you don’t want to print your photos, you can always create a gratitude photo album in your photo app that you can store them all in. You can then write little notes about them in your journal or note down the dates the pictures were taken with a short description to accompany it.
Gratitude mind garden
Gratitude doesn’t have to be all words, and the gratitude garden may be one of the most powerful ways to express and interact with your feelings of thankfulness.
A gratitude mind garden is both a visualisation and an illustration that helps you characterise your thoughts as plants in order to understand the power of focusing your energy on positive thoughts. By creating a mindfulness gratitude garden helps manifest positivity and serves as a strong metaphor for life
Start by taking a double-page spread in your journal and title it “My Gratitude Garden."
Next, draw any plants you want, and label them with the things you are grateful for. They can be big things, tiny moments – whatever makes you happy. Maybe one plant represents the first coffee of the morning, another represents your favourite workout, and another represents your family.
You can make as many or as few plants as you like, and you do not have to create the entire garden in one sitting. In fact, it’s better to keep adding to the plant whenever you have an experience you are grateful for that you want to add to it.
Drawing your thoughts of gratitude as plants and flowers serves more of a purpose than just being aesthetically pleasing. Flowers grow when you attend to them with love, kindness, and nurturing. The same happens with gratitude. The more you focus on nurturing thoughts of gratitude, the stronger they become and the more abundant they become in your mind.
The benefit of the gratitude garden is that you can then use this picture to visualise your garden in your mind during mindfulness practices to help you focus on the positive.
Just as plants grow in the garden, so do weeds. Weeds can be used to represent negative thoughts that inevitably pop into our heads from time to time. So, if negative thoughts come into your head during visualisation, simply create weeds, label them with the negative thoughts, and then bring your attention back to the flowers of gratitude.
In this way, you learn that there will always be negative thoughts popping into your head from time to time, but you don’t need to waste your energy trying to get rid of them because, much like weeds, they’ll just come back.
Instead, you can choose to focus your attention on the flowers and let them bloom, ignoring the weeds and just letting them be.
Reframing negative thoughts
Your journal can be used for more than just noting down the things you are grateful for. You can also use it to reframe your negative thoughts and find ways to find the positives in the negatives – similar to techniques used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
When we have thoughts stuck in our heads, we tend to become laser-focused on one aspect and able to create unbiased opinions or reactions towards them.
So, next time you are struggling to find things to be grateful for and you feel weighed down by negative thoughts, try and write them into your journal exactly as you think them. Don’t skip any details.
Once you have done that, see if there is any evidence to support the way you are feeling. Chances are things probably feel much worse in your head than they really are, and by writing it down, you are able to unburden yourself of some of that negativity.
Once you have worked through this, try and brainstorm ways to reframe the situation to be kinder to yourself and see where things may be going well.
This will help you to alleviate some of the negative thoughts in your mind that might be blocking your ability to practise gratitude.
Motivational quotes are a great way to help keep our minds in a positive focus and can inspire us to take action or simply direct our energy in a particular way. And that’s exactly why your gratitude journal should have at least one page full of motivational and inspirational quotes.
This is a page you can go back to during those times when you need reminding that everything is going to be ok, or a place to be inspired.
Examples of motivational and inspirational quotes for gratitude:
- Remember that what you have now is among the things you only hoped for – Epicurus
- Love wholeheartedly, be surprised, give thanks and praise – then you will discover the fullness of life – David Steindl-Rast
- When I think of you, I think of kindness, wisdom, and love. Thanks for being you. – Sam Crow
- It always seems impossible until it’s done – Nelson Mandela
- Be happy with what you have, while working for what you want – Helen Keller
- Happiness can be found in the darkest of places, if one only remembers to turn on the light – Dumbledore
- No one ever made a difference being like everyone else – P.T Barnum
- When you focus on the good, the good gets better – Abraham Hicks
- Don’t let the world change your smile. Let your smile change the world – Will Smith
Wheel of Life
The wheel of life is a way of monitoring different aspects of your life.
Typically, the life wheel consists of the following eight elements:
- Personal Growth
- Social life
It is unlikely to feel the same level of fulfilment or discontent across the board in your life. Chances are, some things are going better than others – it’s normal.
In your gratitude journal, the wheel serves two purposes.
Firstly, you can use it as a way to check in with yourself either daily or weekly to see how you are feeling in your life and which areas need more love and attention.
You can also use the wheel to help you come up with ideas for things you can be grateful for. Choose a slice of the wheel and think of something that you are thankful for, big or small. For example, if you take the finance slice, maybe you are grateful that you found a penny in the street earlier.
Writing a letter to self
Your gratitude journal is more than just a place to write and reflect. It’s also a place to read back and remember all the great things that have been happening in your life. Like the time that stranger stopped you from walking into the lamppost when you were too busy texting on your phone to see the post coming.
So why not use a page or two to write your future self a letter? Whether it feels like it or not, you have a lot to be thankful for in your life. And you know that future you is going to need reminding from time to time. So write yourself a letter about all the great things going on and how you believe in yourself to make it past the hard days.
You’ll thank yourself for it one day!
When you’re struggling for gratitude inspiration, having a list of prompts in your journal is a simple way to keep you on course.
Here are some 15 our favourite gratitude prompts:
- What is a memory you are grateful for?
- What book/film/tv show are you thankful for?
- Did you have a nice day today?
- Write about someone special to you
- What was your favourite birthday? Explain what made it so special
- What is a difficult situation you went through that you had to overcome, and what did you learn from it?
- What are your favourite things about where you live?
8. What’s something that made you laugh today?
- Write about a time you laughed so hard you cried.
- Write three things you like about your body
- Write your three favourite personality traits
- How is your life better today than it was a year ago?
- What makes you feel better when you feel down?
- Write about your favourite hobby
- What music are you most grateful for?
Feel free to add more to your list whenever you think of any.
How long should your gratitude entries be?
Now that you have a good idea of what to put in your journal, you might be wondering about how much you need to write.
The answer is pretty simple. You should write as much or as little as you like. For example, some people prefer to write lists of three to five things that they feel grateful for daily, and other people like to write in-depth about the things that made them feel thankful for that day.
The most important thing is that you are consistently journaling daily so that you can feel the benefits and create a long-lasting mindset shift that allows you to focus on the positives rather than the negatives.
Building your gratitude journaling habit
As stated above, consistent journaling is the key to making gratitude work for you so you can enjoy the benefits it has to offer. That is why it is so essential to make your journaling a habit.
Here are some tips to turn your gratitude journaling into a habit.
Create a routine that you do before you journal to set it up. For example, maybe you make your morning cup of tea or coffee before sitting down to journal, or you add it into your bedtime routine.
Do it daily
As much as possible, make sure you journal every day. This consistency is what will lead to cementing your habit.
Creating your habit doesn’t have to be too hard. Even taking just two minutes every day to dedicate to gratitude journaling can make a big impact and allow you to enjoy the benefits.
Pick a time
Schedule your gratitude journaling in the same way you would any other important appointment. If you treat your journaling as an extra, you won’t feel inclined to make time for it, but if you place importance on the activity by giving it an official time, you are more likely to do it.
Find an accountability buddy
It can be hard to keep yourself accountable, so find someone else to help you. Get a friend or family member to check in with you daily to make sure you have written in your journal.
Alternatively, set reminders for yourself on your phone to keep you accountable.
Be kind to yourself
Yes, consistency is vital, but let’s be honest, you are going to end up missing a day for whatever reason. Maybe you’re feeling ill, perhaps you went on holiday, or maybe you just simply forgot. Whatever the reason, it’s ok.
Instead of worrying about missing a day and then catastrophising it, take a deep breath and continue the next day as usual. It’s not the end of the world if you miss a day or two!
Setting up your gratitude journal environment
Journaling is an act of self-care. So providing yourself with a calm, peaceful environment can really enhance the effects of your journaling practice.
Here are some ways to level up your gratitude journal environment
We’ve already discussed how mindfulness helps with gratitude. And having an environment free of distractions can help with that. Having a quiet, peaceful area to journal in means you can concentrate on your thoughts.
Surround yourself with things that bring you serenity
Being around your favourite things can ignite a strong sense of gratitude before you have even started, sparking ideas for your journal.
Add some plants
Plants have been proven to help reduce stress and improve mood, so make sure to keep a plant in your journaling space. Not willing to look after a plant? No problem – get a fake plant instead! Same serenity without the responsibility.
Find a place with good lighting
Lighting can really affect mood, so try and find an area with natural light, or if you are journaling at night, use lights that aren’t too harsh.
Keep your journal in a prominent place
It would be awesome if we could have a nook or desk dedicated solely to our journaling. But for the majority of people, there just isn’t the space for it. This means you’ll be moving in and out of that space every day.
To make sure you keep journaling at the forefront of your mind, make sure to keep your journal in a prominent location throughout the day, so you are reminded throughout the day to stay positive.
Candles and/or aromatherapy
We have five senses for a reason. Each one can contribute to how we feel. And candles are no exception. There is a lot of evidence to suggest certain smells, such as lavender, have a calming effect, so take the opportunity to find your favourite candle and light it while you journal.
If you want to spice up your gratitude journaling, why not consider doing a gratitude challenge?
- Send a different loved one a message of gratitude every day for 14 days
- Choose a topic and focus your gratitude on that topic for seven days
- Do the 100 happy days challenge – take a picture of something you are grateful for or that makes you happy every day for 100 days.
- Create a grateful bingo with your friends. First, create a bingo card with different gratitude prompts. Then, set a time limit, and split off in pairs to find things that you are grateful for in each category. Finally, take a picture of it to document it. For example, a prompt might be what drink are you most grateful for? So you might go to your favourite coffee shop and buy a coffee then take a pic.
The pair to get the most bingo squares filled wins!
Four apps to compliment your gratitude journaling
Although your gratitude journal is most likely to be analogue (aka in a notebook), there are some apps that may enhance your journaling experience.
Use Pinterest to find more gratitude prompts and inspirational quotes for your journal. Pinterest is full of excellent journal design ideas, too, so if you are artistic, this can provide you with some inspiration.
Day One is an app for journaling. While journaling is always preferably written down, having a place to log your ideas while you are on the go can be really useful. Plus, this app will let you create photo journals, which could pair nicely with your written journal.
Reflectly is a gratitude journal with a twist. It uses AI to track your responses and habits to give you the prompts you need most to help you improve your mental wellbeing.
Motivation app is an incredible app that sends motivational and inspirational quotes directly to your phone. You can set it to only give you quotes on specific topics or opt for a more general approach.
Using this app, you’ll keep a positive outlook all day long while finding some great new quotes to add to your page.
Final Thoughts on Gratitude
Gratitude is one of the simplest practices we can follow to positively impact our mental wellbeing.
Life can be hard, and the last two years have especially highlighted this fact globally. But even when things are going wrong, there is always a ray of light peeking behind the clouds, ready to shine down on you. And gratitude is the pair of glasses that will help you see it.
Gratitude is a choice, much like the time-old glass half full or half empty conundrum. Every situation you face can be seen in multiple ways. By choosing the gratitude route, you’ll give yourself the strength you need to make it through the difficult days.
So make sure you give gratitude journaling a try and see how it improves your life.
Let us know how gratitude has improved your life in the comments. We love hearing your stories!