How I Get the Most Out of Gratitude Journaling

Annie Fields
Person's hands poised to write in a lined notebook
Person's hands poised to write in a lined notebook

For me, one of the most important part of my journals is expressing gratitude. There have been so many studies about the importance of gratitude journals (read more from Amy Morin on Psychology Today), and I have found it is really helpful to think about things you’re grateful for every day.

Over the years, I have tried several different formats for the gratitude sections of my journal. At first, I had a separate journal where I recorded three things I was grateful for every day. Then, I decided I wanted it in my journal, so I listed five things I was grateful for every day in the back. For those lists, I tried to focus on moments or people that made me happy, rather than things. I remembered moments each day when I laughed or smiled, and wrote about those because we tend to remember and focus so much more on negative memories (read more from Kendra Cherry on Very Well Mind).

Related:Download The Mighty app to connect in real time with people who can relate to what you're going through.

Now, I use a table format for my gratitude lists. I write it at the end, or in the middle, of each day’s entry. I based the structure off this chart (read more from Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury on Positive Psychology), so I have four different categories: Compliments, Challenges & Lessons, People and Assets.

Here’s a little bit about what I write for each:

1. Compliments: the goal of compliments is to write compliments you would give yourself about that day. For me, this was really difficult at first, but has become a fun way to reflect on my day. I’ve found it encourages me to challenge myself and to remind me of what type of person I want to work towards becoming.

Some comments I’ve written:
“I’m proud of you for going on a run after work even though you felt really tired. And I’m proud of you for being nice to yourself while you did it, and not being too hard on yourself for how challenging it felt.”

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“Good job advocating for yourself at work today.”

2. Challenges & Lessons: the goal of this section is to think about things each day that challenged you and what you learned from them.

The lessons section has been the hardest part of this, but it makes me feel more in control of my life and acknowledges how I’ve grown. I’ve noticed that many of the challenges stay the same from day to day, but I try to make the lessons different each day — what did having this challenge teach me today?

Some challenges & lessons I’ve written:
Uncertainty about the future: I’m learning to be more OK with knowing that I am not sure what I’m doing next, and instead to focus on the present moment.

Feeling sick: I’m learning how to be gentle with myself by noticing what my body needs when I feel sick and respond accordingly.

3. People: what people were you grateful for today? I have a rule that it can only be people who I actively interacted with or thought about specifically that day. This prevents me from just listing all my friends and family every day, and challenges me to think about who positively influenced my day.

Related:A Key Factor in My Mental Health Recovery During Quarantine

Some people I’ve written about:

  • Post office workers

  • My new doctor who listens to me

A banner promoting The Mighty's new Pencil Case group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Looking for creative ways to reflect, slow down, practice self-care and check in with yourself? In The Pencil Case group, we support each other in doing just that. Click to join.
A banner promoting The Mighty's new Pencil Case group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Looking for creative ways to reflect, slow down, practice self-care and check in with yourself? In The Pencil Case group, we support each other in doing just that. Click to join.

4. Assets: what are some assets in your life right now? I think of this most similar to traditional gratitude lists. What things are you thankful for? Again, I try to focus on things I specifically noticed that day. Maybe it’s a new book I enjoyed reading, a new meditation exercise I enjoyed or something my phone allowed me to do.

Some assets I’ve written:

  • A job I love

  • The book Quiet for changing how I think about myself and other people.

Those are the four areas of gratitude I try to reflect on every day. Do you record gratitude in your journal? How do you do it? If you don’t currently, I encourage you to try out different types of gratitude lists and see which one feels the best for you.

Follow this journey on Purple Garlic 

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