It’s not always easy to recognize the good things in our lives, especially during difficult times. Focusing on problems and other negativity is actually the default for our brains, according to the negativity bias. The negativity bias states that negative stimuli are more readily processed in our brains. This is the reasoning behind why we tend to remember negative comments better than positive ones. However, this primitive tendency doesn’t have to take over your life. Gratitude journaling is a powerful technique to help us train our brains to look for the positive things and magnify them.
A simple Internet search of gratitude journaling will return many benefits experienced by those who have tried it. Those benefits include lower stress levels, increased self-awareness, and more clarity on what’s important in life. Science agrees. Research has revealed a wide range of benefits. Current studies indicate that regular gratitude journaling leads to significant positive impacts on mental health. Higher life satisfaction, better sleep, greater connection to others, increased personal joy, and fewer symptoms of physical pain, have all been research-documented benefits.
How to Begin
Like every type of journaling, there isn’t one way to do gratitude journaling. Find the method that works for you and aim to journal most days of the week. Spend 15 minutes or more deeply engaged in the process. Gratitude is something to be developed and, as such, takes time. With enough practice, gratitude will become a natural habit and part of who you are.
When someone thinks about gratitude journaling, oftentimes they picture the practice of listing out everything they’re grateful for. While this exercise has good intentions, it is often too generalized and will quickly become monotonous. When this happens, you are less likely to continue gratitude journaling. More benefits will come from deep reflection on individual things you are grateful for. The goal here is to connect with the emotions you feel when pondering the good things in your life. Begin by listing one thing you are grateful for and then five reasons why. Answering the why is what will encourage deeper reflection and engagement in the process.
The purpose of categories is to help you focus on what you’re grateful for in one specific area at a time. This narrows the focus of your mind while allowing you to dig deeper. Bestselling author, Tim Ferriss, uses the following four categories in his gratitude journal. Start with these and feel free to add or adjust categories as you see fit.
- Relationships in your life
- An opportunity you have today
- Something great that happened yesterday
- Something simple near you (i.e. the blue sky, your warm blanket)
If you need a bit more guidance, the following prompts were created to get you writing now. You can also reuse these as your responses and perspective will likely change over time. Find more prompts here.
- Write about a person in your life that you’re especially grateful for and why.
- What skills or abilities are you thankful to have?
- What is something you’re grateful to have learned this week?
- Who has done something this week to help you or make your life easier? How can you thank them?
- What elements of nature are you grateful for and why?
- What positive changes have come into your life over the last year?
- What are five things about the human body that you are grateful for?
- What are you grateful for about the city you live in?
- What song has lifted your mood lately?
- What are five simple ways you can share your gratitude today?
As we create a habit of looking for the good, our lives will change. As Roman philosopher Cicero said, “A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue but the parent of all other virtues.”