What I Learned from Keeping a Gratitude Journal

In February, Bethany’s new habit was to write what she was grateful for daily. Taryn asked her how it went and what she learned from it.

T: Why did you choose this as your focus this month? What were some other ideas you had and why did you pick writing about gratitude over them?

B: There are a few reasons I chose to spend a month focusing on gratitude; the first being that I have always been pessimistic and there are a lot of times when I wish I wasn’t. Another reason is how hectic and stressful last year ended for me. I was definitely at a point where I needed to take a step back, take a deep breath, and regroup. I considered trying daily meditation but ultimately opted to keep a gratitude journal. I plan to give meditation a try in the future but for the time being I thought putting focus on what I had to be grateful for everyday was where I should start.

T: What time of day did you write? Did you give yourself any requirements on what you wrote? Did you notice when you did other activities (like being in a certain place in your house, or drinking coffee) that it better put you in a gratitude mindset?

B: My plan was to end every day with a moment of reflection and recount what the day was like and what I was grateful for so I usually did my journaling in bed. However, there were a few evenings I sat at the dining room table to journal, and I think on those nights writing came easier for me. Maybe since I was sitting up my body recognized that I was in a working position, whereas in bed I’m focusing more on sleep. 

T: Can you give some examples of what you wrote about? Did you make it more as a journal, with stories, or was it more of a list?

B: Most of my journal entries tended to be more along the lines of a list but I did notice on really good days I wanted to elaborate more. For instance, some entries I made were “I’m grateful for time spent with friends” “I’m grateful for good books” and “I’m grateful for sunshine.” Those are all things that I am very grateful to have, but I should have been more descriptive and said “I don’t get to spend a lot of time with my friends, so when I do I’m grateful for every minute” or “After many gloomy, grey days I am so grateful to have a day filled with sunshine.” There were other days when I did go into detail about what I was grateful for that day and why: “Today I am grateful for the time I have available to get caught up on chores at home and take the dogs out on long walks so they don’t get too restless.”

T: Was it easy to do every day? And if it wasn’t, what made it harder? In general, I struggle building new daily habits. There’s always at least one day of the week where I can make enough excuses to not do something. Are you the same way and did you feel okay with skipping days?

B: I thought gratitude journaling would be pretty easy and that’s part of why I chose to start with it first, but it turned out to be a bit more difficult than I anticipated. Since I waited until the end of the day to journal there were plenty of nights I would already be in bed with the lights off about to fall asleep, and I would suddenly remember I forgot to do my journal. There were also some days I felt too mentally exhausted to really focus on gratitude, and I would end up phoning it in and writing the bare minimum. Before I started this challenge I didn’t do any research to find advice from others that have also done gratitude journaling, and I think that was a really big mistake. I really could have benefited from reading about what did and did not work for other people and then take some of that advice and apply it to myself. Since finishing my 30 day challenge I’ve received some advice for creating a successful gratitude journal that I plan to use in the future (I’ll share that at the end).

T: You say you feel like you’re sometimes too negative. Did you feel like this habit helped you? Did you see short-term improvements, like immediately after you wrote? Did you feel like there were longer-term improvements?

B: The first week of my journaling was amazing, and at the end of the week I really felt great. I had a long list of all the positive things that happened that week, and I truly thought this was going to change my mindset for the long run. But as the weeks went on, that momentum slowly started to dwindle down, and by the end I really wasn’t feeling it anymore. However, now that I’ve read back over my journaling, it does bring some perspective to how much I really do have to be grateful for. Maybe even though I don’t sense any major improvements, I think it did make a small shift in my mindset. The biggest benefit from this habit is now my journal is a great source to go back to and reread when I’m having a bad day.

T: I don’t think I’m a super negative person, but I have a problem of not celebrating small achievements. Do you think I would benefit from doing this challenge? What kind of person do you think should do this?

B: I believe everyone could benefit from keeping some sort of gratitude journal. You wouldn’t even have to write in it every single day but maybe just to keep track of all the great things happening in your life. For instance, you had a hectic day at work but when you got home your spouse had dinner cooked and ready for you, maybe you just bought a new top and someone compliments you on it, or you saw a beautiful flower when you were out for a walk. I wrote about all kinds of things I was grateful for like sunshine, relaxing, finishing a house project, my dog, having a supportive husband, and spending quality time with him. I think it is a great idea to put focus on some of the small things. They really do matter, but they seem to be the first thing we forget.

T: Towards the end of this month, how do you feel? Would you do anything differently?

B: I am glad I spent a month focusing on gratitude, but I don’t think I got all I could out of this challenge. With that being said I do plan on giving it another shot in a few months (maybe paired with meditation) and when I do there are a few things I want to do differently:

  • Spend at least 5 minutes in the morning writing what I want to focus on that day and 5 minutes in the evening reflecting on how my day went.
  • Focus on relationships, opportunities, and surroundings.
  • Be more descriptive, personal, and positive when I write.
  • When I’m in a slump, find a journaling prompt to help with writing.

T: Lastly, because I love planners and journals: what did you write in?

I used The Simple Elephant planner, because it is undated so you can start using it at any time of the year. It also had different sections that allow you to focus on monthly, weekly, and daily planning. I liked that I was able to customize it to fit my style and when I would be using it. It also has rows to add weekly or monthly goals, and then you can assess how you did and what you can improve on. I also used the column next to the monthly calendar to write motivational quotes that aligned with my focus for that month. The quote that I used as motivation while I was focusing on gratitude was:

“It is our own mental attitude which makes the world what it is for us. Our thoughts make things beautiful, our thoughts make things ugly. The whole world is in our own minds. Learn to see things in the proper light”.

Next month Bethany’s goal is to be active everyday, whether that be going to more fitness classes or just walking her dog. The idea is to just move. Stay tuned!

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